February 23rd brought sad news about the death of conductor, composer and violinist Jaakko Kuusisto at the age of 48. Finland lost one of its key figures of classical and contemporary music. Kuusisto was not only an exceptionally talented and versatile musician, but also a thinker, and active debater and an influential person in cultural policy.
Born into a family of musicians, Jaakko and his brother Pekka Kuusisto began learning the violin early in childhood and continued studying in the USA as students of Miriam Fried. Kuusisto’s career as violinist was launched by a series of successes in international violin competitions in the 1990s. Having recorded concertos by some of the most prominent Finnish contemporary composers, such as Rautavaara and Aho, Kuusisto became one of the most frequently recorded Finnish instrumentalists. Furthermore, his discography contains several albums outside the classical genre.
As conductor, he worked with many leading orchestras, including Minnesota Orchestra, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide Symphony Orchestras, the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, NDR Hannover, DeFilharmonie in Belgium, the chamber orchestras of Tallinn and Lausanne, as well as virtually all Finnish orchestras. Kuusisto served as principal guest conductor of the Oulu Symphony Orchestra during 2005-2009. As opera conductor, he worked e.g. at the Finnish National Opera and the Savonlinna Opera Festival. He was concertmaster of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra during 1998 - 2012, and served as arranger and conductor for the orchestra during those years. In 2018, Kuusisto became chief conductor and artistic director of the Kuopio Symphony Orchestra, and additionally, from 2022 onwards, he had been chosen to serve as artistic partner to the Oulu Symphony Orchestra.
Kuusisto was also a productive composer. His compositions consist of about 40 opuses: chamber and vocal music, orchestral pieces, operas and film music. His family opera, The Canine Kalevala, was a big success at the Savonlinna Opera Festival and had several productions elsewhere. The opera Elämälle about composer Oskar Merikanto’s life was also received with acclaim. Kuusisto’s latest opera, Jää (Ice) is based on an award-winning Finnish novel.
Kuusisto served as an active advisor in cultural policy, most recently as chair of an expert group, shaping the government’s system for funding museums and the performing arts.
The President of Finland awarded him with the Pro Finlandia Medal in 2017.
Kuusisto was diagnosed with brain tumor in summer 2020. He continued working until 2021. Jaakko Kuusisto will be sorely missed by his family, friends, and the whole Finnish music community.