Born: October 7, 1976
Finland can boast vigorous scenes in jazz, electronic, and folk music as well as a legendary educational emphasis on the classics, and the young Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto has aimed toward a career and a charismatic presentation that builds connections among these various genre. Born in Espoo on October 7, 1976, he began playing the violin at age three and enrolled at the Sibelius Academy when he was nine. His primary teacher there was Tuomas Haapanen. Part of Kuusisto's training was American; he studied under Miriam Fried and Paul Bliss at Indiana University between 1992 and 1996. By the end of that time he was already making an impression as a top-level player, taking home first prize at the 1995 International Sibelius Violin Competition in Helsinki. He has recorded the Sibelius violin concerto for the Ondine label as part of its Absolute Sibelius release but has concentrated on material of a slightly more contemporary tinge, from Bartók to Rautavaara. The beneficiary of the movement of modern Scandinavian music into the concert repertory, he has also helped that movement along with gutsy performances drawing on his experience outside concert music: he plays jazz with a trio called Töykeät and other progressive musicians including Finland's Rinneradio, and he has dabbled in electronic genres ranging from hip-hop to noise music. An admirer of jazz experimentalist John Zorn, he told Erica Jeal of England's Guardian that "I realised that . . . it was actually maybe one of the best things that I have -- this desire or ability to improvise." He also heads his own Finnish folk ensemble, the Luomu Players, and has appeared on Finnish rock and pop releases. Kuusisto has appeared with top orchestras, including the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland and Philadelphia orchestras, smaller American groups such as the Alabama and Oregon symphony orchestras, the City of Birmingham and BBC symphony orchestras, and the innovative Australian Chamber Orchestra. His brother Jaakko is also a musician, and the two share the artistic directorship of Finland's Lake Tuusula Chamber Music Festival. In 2006, Kuusisto became artist-in-residence with the Tapiola Sinfonietta. He has begun to direct ensembles from the violin more and more frequently, and he was the featured violinist in 4, a Finnish DVD about Vivaldi's Four Seasons, featuring winter landscapes from Finland's Lapland region.