Jaakko Kuusisto (1974-2022) was one of Finland’s most versatile musicians. As a violinist, he studied at Indiana University with Miriam Fried, made numerous recordings, and, in the 1990s, was a top prizewinner at the Sibelius and Nielsen competitions. After serving as concertmaster of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, Kuusisto became active as a conductor. Perhaps he made his most enduring mark as a composer of approximately 40 pieces, which include operas, film scores, chamber music, concerti, and a symphony. Tragically, Jaakko Kuusisto passed away at the age of 48 in February of 2022 following a two-year battle with brain cancer.
Kuusisto’s Violin Concerto, completed in 2011, is a bold and cinematic showpiece for soloist and orchestra alike. As a violinist, Kuusisto had long intended to write a concerto which he could perform. Ultimately, the inspiration for the piece came after Kuusisto received a commission from another prominent Finnish violinist, Elina Vähälä. With exuberance, the Violin Concerto revels in the brilliant colors and sonic majesty of the modern orchestra. Some passages sound as if they drifted in from a John Williams film score. There are passing homages to the dreamy, technicolor magic of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, as well as the music of Sibelius, Barber, and Shostakovich. Following the model of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, the first and second movements are linked.
The first movement (Moderato) begins with a cadenza for the solo violin which establishes the work’s principal motivic seed: G, F-sharp, E-flat. This passionate, extended statement gives us an intimate introduction to the Concerto’s heroic main character. Then, with the sudden entrance of the orchestra, a majestic landscape appears and we are off on a glittering adventure.
The second movement (Lento) takes us to a new, more intimate and mysterious place. Fairy magic is in the air, with the shimmering sounds of the piccolo, harp, and glockenspiel. The voice of the clarinet is a recurring presence. Along with the solo violin, it engages in distant, improvisatory recollections. We hear the exotic scales of Eastern European folk music. As the movement continues, it ventures into darker territory with slowly burning intensity. The final bars drift away with haunting, polytonal strains.
Beginning with a pulsating wood block, the final movement (Molto allegro) is an exhilarating moto perpetuo. It takes us on the ultimate cinematic journey, soaring over vast landscapes and introducing us to an array of colorful instrumental “characters.” Just before the final cadence, the action comes to a crashing halt, and the opening motive is transformed and resolved.
III. Molto allegro:
- Kuusisto: Violin Concerto, Op. 28, Elina Vähälä, Jaakko Kuusisto, Lahti Symphony Orchestra Amazon
Featured Image: photograph by Heikki Saukkomaa