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Pekka Kuusisto went viral in a week – interview with Finnish star violinist

Folksong performance at the Proms had the audience in stitches

Pekka Elomaa
Star violinist Pekka Kuusisto is nonplussed by the power of the Internet.
Star violinist Pekka Kuusisto is nonplussed by the power of the Internet. Kuva: Pekka Elomaa

For all that he is a star violinist, Pekka Kuusisto is nonplussed by the power of the Internet: one week after appearing at a concert in London he is an online phenomenon. A video released by the BBC of his hilarious encore Minun kultani kaunis on [My love is beautiful] is going viral. On the video, Kuusisto has a large London audience howling with laughter and singing along. In Finnish.

“TV broadcasts from the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall are generally only available in the UK. On Wednesday, I noticed that the BBC had begun to distribute a separate video internationally,” says Kuusisto.

The BBC Proms is an exceptionally large and relaxed festival that takes place at the Royal Albert Hall, a venue seating more than 5,000. The mood of the festival is driven by the ‘Prommers’, who occupy the cheap standing-only sector in front of the stage.

“I’d never been to a Proms concert before, not even to listen. It was everything they’d said it would be. The Prommers engage with tremendous energy, and I decided, OK, let’s do this together.”

First, Kuusisto gave an unusually relaxed and expressive performance of the Violin Concerto of Petr Tchaikovsky, with folk music references to boot. He drew audible laughter from the audience in the cadenza of the first movement, which is extremely rare; after all, the cadenza is hardly intended as humorous.

“There’s a new critical edition of the concerto. The first part of the cadenza is played as loud as possible, which is pretty risky in terms of sound, particularly in the high notes. I made some rather odd sounds in the dress rehearsal and said ‘almost’, which the leader found amusing. At the concert, the high note came out really well, and you could see it in my face, and the leader was amused again, in a good way.”

The audience finally broke up with Kuusisto’s encore, Minun kultani kaunis on [My love is beautiful; a Finnish folk song where a man declares his love for a woman despite her many considerable physical flaws]. Kuusisto was on fine form, joking that the song was notated in the mid-19th century, “when Russia was still a part of Finland”.

“I’d used that joke before, and what with the Brexit and all it seemed somehow appropriate. I hadn’t planned the intro.”

The audience’s amusement increased as Kuusisto explained the comical lyrics of the song. “I’ve been playing the polskas of [18th-century fiddler] Samuel Rinta-Nikkola as encores since the late 1990s, and folk songs were a natural place to go. It’s incredibly great material for recycling for all sorts of things.”

Kuusisto recruited the leader of the orchestra to accompany his encore and soon had the entire hall singing along with the [nonsense] refrain Hei luulia illalla:

Kuusisto felt that the London concert was “a really relaxed gig”. “As soon as we started, we felt how strongly the audience was on our side. You can really be yourself when you feel that.”

Kuusisto will be appearing at the Flow Festival in Helsinki with Paperi-T and Samuli Kosminen on Friday and will then go on tour with the Minnesota Orchestra, performing the concertos of Sibelius and Prokofiev. The tour will extend to Lahti, Finland.

“I’ll probably have Fleetwood Mac quotes or something for the Flow Festival, but conductor Osmo Vänskä and I will work out a fun encore for the orchestra tour too.”

The Proms concert was not an isolated incident; here’s a video (below, with subtitles in English) from November 2015 with Pekka Kuusisto performing Sibelius in a variety of styles, including Finnish folk music and Radiohead.

Translator: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi

Pekka Kuusisto liekeissä: näin Sibelius soi Radioheadin tyyliin
Pekka Kuusisto liekeissä: näin Sibelius soi Radioheadin tyyliin
Vuoden 1995 Sibelius-viulukilvan voittaja Pekka Kuusisto esittelee HSTV:lle mihin Jean Sibeliuksen viulukonsertto taipuu. Hän näyttää kuinka soitti 20 vuotta sitten Sibeliusta ja kuinka kansanmusiikki muutti tulkintaa. Kuulemme myös miten Sibelius soi barokin mestarin J. S. Bachin ja lopulta jopa Radiohead-yhtyeen tapaan. Toimittaja: Vesa Sirén, kuvaus ja leikkaus: Sami Kero
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