Facing the music: violinist Pekka Kuusisto | Classical music

What is the first recording you bought?

Diggi Loo Diggi Ley by Herreys, after the three brothers won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1984. Did you know that the eldest of the band, Per, is now a lawyer for the Swedish musicians’ union? I sometimes imagine him wearing gold shoes while settling disputes between record labels and managers.

Here are the performances:

The Swedish winners of the Eurovision Song Contest 1984

What is your musical guilty pleasure?


If you found yourself with six months of freedom to learn a new instrument, what would it be?

Martenot waves. I think most wave players are keyboard players, and you need someone with those skills for something like Turangalila. For the creation of new ondes Martenot music, it would be interesting if more string players, wind players and singers had access to the instrument, because its personality resembles a kind of interbreeding experience between all of these things. Also, I think the ability of the ondes Martenot to play extremely loud very high notes, while remaining ecstatic and free, would be a great lesson for me and any other violinist or cellist sounding like a mosquito on speed in the Praises from the Messiaen Quartet. for the end of time.

Here is Messiaen’s Fêtes des Belles Eaux, a composition for six ondes Martenot:

What one thing would improve the classical concert format?

Improvisation. Not only in the music played, but in everything that happens inside the concert hall. I think we should try different gestures more often, even when we risk looking like a fool. Perhaps especially when there is a risk, or rather an opportunity, of looking like an asshole. I’m not particularly enthusiastic about the personality of the performer who overshadows the repertoire, but I often feel that the nature of the concert makes us seem detached and alien in a way that might actually obscure the message of the music. Audiences shouldn’t always be allowed to sink into comfortable familiarity at a concert, but they should be derailed in all sorts of ways that scratch the skin of every organ with which they receive their experiences.

Which conductor or performer from the past would you have liked to work with?

From the recent past, I’d say Carlos Kleiber would be a pretty solid pick. I would have liked to feel the way the musical gravity seemed to obey him.

Maurice Martenot, with the electronic instrument he invented in 1928, the ondes Martenot. Photography: Bettmann Archive

What is the most unusual place in which you performed?

Possibly the paper mill in Fray Bentos, Uruguay. I was young and needed money.

What has been your most memorable live musical experience as an audience member?

At a very young age, I heard Miriam Fried and Janos Starker play Franck’s Sonata on back-to-back nights at the Naantali Festival in Finland, both with excellent pianists. Being a child at the time and studying the technical side of playing the violin, I was surprised at how differently artists approached the same work. If this type of programming were to become more common, it would perhaps improve understanding of the nature of notation and how difficult and essential it is for a performer to find their way of coexisting with a work, rather than simply reading it.

A gig that blew me away a few years ago was a show by Antony and the Johnsons. I had no idea anyone’s voice could tear me apart, but Antony’s did, and it hurt me, and I became a better person. Antony is now making pop music of almost chilling prominence as Anohni, but here’s a reminiscence of the former band, with the Metropole Orkest, completely living and breathing Beyoncé’s hit Crazy in Love.

Antony and the Johnsons perform Crazy in Love in 2009

We offer you a time travel machine: to which period, or which moment in the history of music, would you travel and why?

Bach improvising, or singing quodlibets with his family. I would probably feel completely pedestrian, but it would be worth it. Another moment I’d like to see is when the first caveman started singing and is having a pretty good time, and the second caveman comes along and starts banging rocks against each other for a time. Does the first caveman then say, “Thank you very much, now you’ve ruined everything”?

Which non-classical musician would you like to work with?

Radiohead. We would be six, so we could take Martenots waves and play this piece of Messiaen that I posted above, on a few pints.

Imagine you are a festival manager with unlimited resources. What would you schedule – or order – for your opening event?

First, I would hire the best PR and Al Yankovic to produce the most intense three-year advertising campaign for the polka. After three years, when the festival finally arrives, I would set up a special stand in all Sainsbury’s stores where people could bring their knives, guns and fiddles, and get an accordion in return. By then, thanks to the publicity blitz, the polka would be bigger than the Beatles and Jesus, so everyone would be on board. London would be full of polka dots and free from violence.

What are you singing in the shower?

Disney animation theme The beauty and the Beastwith improvised lyrics about everyday events.

It’s late, you’ve had a few beers, you’re at a karaoke bar. What do you choose to sing?

The success of the Backstreet Boys I want it this wayby Max Martin and Andreas Carlsson.

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