The Scotsman Sessions #26: Pekka Kuusisto

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With the performing arts world shutting down for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country (and beyond) and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s featured artist for 2019/20, Pekka Kuusisto, performs a tango by Unto Mononen outside his sauna in Pernaja, Southern Finland.

Crack Finnish violinist and all-round off-beat entertainer Pekka Kuusisto should have been in Scotland right now with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, giving the UK premiere of Nico Muhly’s Violin Concerto.

Instead, we find him social distancing outside his sauna in Pernaja, Southern Finland - not far from where Sibelius once lived - where despite the crisp 3ºC Baltic spring air, he strikes up a sultry, do-it-yourself Tango exclusively for Scotsman Sessions.

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“We Finns like to self-contemplate,” he tells us, before strumming his fiddle, pursing his lips, and whistling dreamily with a dexterity reminiscent of 1970s TV entertainer Roger Whittaker, minus the latter’s trademark birdcalls.

Pekka Kuusisto

“The piece is “Tähdet meren yllä” (The stars above the sea) by probably the most significant of the Finnish Tango composers, Unto Mononen,” Kuusisto explains, before adding a typically laconic afterthought. “He tried to drink himself to death but as that proved very slow, he shot himself instead.”

Kuusisto, on the other hand, has an irrepressible zest for life. Born into a distinguished lineage of musicians - among them a composer father who ran Finnish National Opera in the late 1980s, and brother Jaakko, a successful composer and violinist - live performance is his preferred fix, a live audience his food and drink. Remember that hilarious Finnish folksong encore he inveigled an entire Royal Albert Hall audience to join in with at the 2016 BBC Proms? It’s on Youtube. Worth a watch.

Such impromptu moments are what distinguish the 43-year-old from the Classical norm. Yes, he plays a cool Beethoven, an intoxicating Sibelius and a dazzling Tchaikovsky. But I’ve also seen him perform wacky stuff with toy piano in a nuclear bunker in Fife, and jam spontaneously with an iPad sequencer. For Kuusisto, music is a visceral inner compulsion that mostly releases itself with outrageous and exhilarating unpredictability.

Facebook: @pekka.kuusisto.musician