Another violinist switches bow for baton

Another violinist switches bow for baton


norman lebrecht

November 24, 2020

The Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto will make his international conducting debut next week in London with the Philharmonia.

Why on earth? Is the world short of Finnish conductors?



  • TheIrishQuestion says:

    He should hop over to Dublin! We’ve had the same two conductors for almost every RTE Concert Orchestra and NSO concert since September! There must be a SERIOUS shortage of Irish conductors, so why not a Finn! Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see concerts happening, even if it’s for an empty hall, but another musical perspective would be very welcome.

    • Alan Edward O'Connor says:

      Nonsense. There have been three concerts conducted by the chief conductor Jaime Martin. Other conductors included David Brophy, Gavin Maloney, Prionnsias O’Duinn, John Finnucane and a professional debut for David Young.

      Enough with the fake news!

      • the numbers dont lie says:

        Well….yes perhaps TheIrishQuestion exaggerated slightly, but the numbers don’t lie:

        Here are the conducted concerts for the NSO since September 2020:

        Jaime Martin: 3
        David Brophy: 3
        Gavin Maloney: 2
        Prionnsias O’Duinn: 2
        John Finucane: 1
        David Young: 1

        With the exception of David Young, all conductors are Dublin based. For the Irish National Symphony Orchestra, funded (for now) by the license fee from the whole of the country, this does seem like a lazy way of programming.

        What about all the other Irish professional conductors who must be sitting at home wondering what exactly is going on… and isn’t there a female conducting scheme run by the NCH???

        • Just to let you know that Robert Houlihan ( alive ,well, kicking and Covid-free. Management at NSO refusing to acknowledge and ignoring requests for work.

          • the numbers dont lie says:

            I think you are not alone in this Robert, serious questions need to be asked about the artistic direction and management of the NSO.

            It’s not just since COVID- it has been sad to see this fine orchestra suffer under some very questionable management direction. Perhaps there is a chink of light in the distance with the move to management by NCH…perhaps…..

        • FYI says:

          Jaime Martin is not based in Dublin. He travels and quarantines for these performances.

          • Alan Edward O'Connor says:

            As would any conductor coming from outside Ireland. For fourteen days. Could be that’s why all conductors have been Irish based bar the chief.

            The issues of management are a separate thing entirely

  • Bill says:

    Just like some of us don’t care about the gender of a performer, some also don’t care about the nationality. If they are good, these things don’t matter, and if they are not, who cares?

  • Ainslie says:

    It’s not a new phenomenon, but only accidentally Finnish. Concert violinists have long felt cramped by having to play the same 10 or so violin concertos again and again. No matter how good one is as a violin soloist, one will never get to explore Berlioz, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler, Debussy, etc. with orchestra without putting down the fiddle and picking up the baton.

    • The View from America says:

      Well, if violinists are tired of presenting the same 10 concertos, we in the audience are equally tired of hearing them.

      Instead of becoming “yet another conductor,” how about introducing some repertoire creativity? I can think of at least a dozen violin concertos I’d love to see in concert that are rarely if ever programmed.

      • BruceB says:

        “Well, if violinists are tired of presenting the same 10 concertos, we in the audience are equally tired of hearing them.”

        I remember talking with one of our guest soloists years ago who bemoaned the difficulty of getting performances for new concertos. She was terrific, but I guess not Perlman-famous where she could just announce what she was playing and orchestra managements would say “oh yes please, your Majesty, anything you wish.” She kept wanting to play something from the present day, but the most modern thing any orchestra would agree to was Prokofiev, or maybe Barber. (Then again, our orchestra got angry letters about “all this ugly modern nonsense” when we played Le Sacre in the early 2000s, so…)

        • The View from America says:

          Well, it doesn’t necessarily need to be “new” or “contemporary” to be something out of the ordinary. How about the Dohnanyi concertos? The Moszkowski? The Bax or Moeran? Heck, I’d jump at the chance to see the Szymanowski concertos in concert even though I’ve been lucky to see each of them once already.

  • Anon says:

    I don’t know if the world is short Finnish conductors, but he will definitely be a short Finnish conductor. He’s about Mikko’s size.

  • W says:

    You’re actually reducing a musician to the country he was born in? Didn’t peg you for a woke-ist. Should we have a cap on how many conductors can come from each country?

  • Firing Back says:

    Ah, the Philharmonia. A proud, British orchestra – that, on the whole, seems to get off on promoting the careers and interests of non-British soloists and conductors.

    Great use of UK public money.

    Don’t worry, though: If they don’t go bankrupt (they’re already on the verge), Brexit will finally sort them out…


    • Eduardo says:

      what have you got against The Philharmonia? can we have a guess as to your signature? oh well…… another day another unjustified remark….
      which orchestra is next FM? and by the way, isn’t talent what matters? whoops……

      • Firing Back says:

        Erm, Eduardo, my point was regarding the promotion of people from overseas – often to the exclusion of home-grown talent – something at which the Philharmonia excels.
        Couple that with enormous UK public funding and, yes, there’s a disconnect and a problem – a problem that most UK taxpayers would find very serious.

        They can’t have it both ways for much longer – and I suspect that, soon enough, public funding will be abolished, as, in my opinion, it should have been many years ago.

        So, if I were you, Eduardo, I’d move away from them ASAP 🙂


  • Firing Back says:

    Non-British soloists, conductors AND orch players, actually.


  • Player says:

    Violin soloists seem to gravitate towards conducting, perhaps as a way to have more control over their interpretations. Conducting could also be more appealing as a way of life, since conductors are generally paid more than soloists. In addition, conductors don’t *really* have to back up everything they do with countless hours of practicing, as the ones making the sound do. As a conductor, one can feel more important while working less. Not to say that conductors don’t sometimes fill an important role, but I’ve seen too many feeble violinists turn to conducting to think it’s a young man’s sport, the way being a soloist is.

  • Nathaniel Rosen says:

    Conductors make more money for a longer time than instrumental soloists.

    • Ainslie says:

      True, except that instrumental virtuosi can develop large and lucrative stables of students at music schools, far more than conductors.

  • Doofus1714 says:

    Exactly, NL!! He shouldn’t conduct because he is Finnish!!

  • Petros Linardos says:

    “Another violinist?” That’s what I thought when Andrew Manze retired from the violin. I now longer feel that way about Manze. Let’s wish Mr. Kuusisto well and not ask “another Pekka”?

    • David K. Nelson says:

      I hope and assume that he is not giving up the violin, just adding conducting to his activities. I would however agree that there is a large repertoire of fine concertos being ignored or mostly ignored so being bored with the standard repertoire is no excuse, if an excuse is needed.

      I am reminded of what was one of Eugene Ormandy’s favorite stories, which perhaps I am garbling, about a large and important concert that was being planned in Hungary to honor the great violinist and teacher Jenö Hubay — who taught Szigeti, Emil Telmányi, André Gertler and a host of other great European violinists of the early 20th century. Ormandy himself studied under Hubay and indeed, Ormandy’s father had NAMED him after Hubay (Ormandy’s birth name was Jenő Blau)! Hubay wrote many violin concertos and at this important concert some of his finest students, including Szigeti, performed the concertos, and Ormandy returned to Hungary to conduct the orchestra for them. After the concert his father confronted him and said that he was a failure because all he did was conduct while he could have been one of the soloists. Ormandy said his father had no conception what it meant to be conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. But fiddle fanciers might understand how Benjamin Blau could think that way.

  • Bratsche brat says:

    Three letters and two syllables, my friend: ego.

  • And why not? His brother, Jaakko, who started out as a violinist, too, is now a very sought-after conductor, composer, arranger – and violinist. Pekka is part of that indecently talented family – Father Ilkka was a composer and an administrator of the highest degree. Pekka is already leading orchestras in St. Paul and elsewhere and is obviously extremely good. So enjoy rather than question.

  • Miko says:

    “is the world short of Finnish conductors”?
    Is there a post Brexit national quota system in place now?

  • Minnesota says:

    Not exactly Pekka’s “international conducting debut.” He has conducted some programs in the past few years as an
    Artistic Partner of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Minnesota.

  • Robert Roy says:

    One of my favourite books is ‘Facing the Music’ by Henri Temianka. A wonderful collection of stories about life on the road as a concert violinist, leader of The Paganini Quartet and conductor. In it, he relates a conversation he had with David Oistrakh who had just started conducting…

    Temianka: ‘What do you find more difficult, playing or conducting?’

    Oistrakh: ‘Let me answer this way – if I asked you to conduct me in the Beethoven Concerto tonight, would you agree?’

    Temianka: ‘Yes, of course I would!’

    Oistrakh: ‘ Now if I asked you to PLAY the Beethoven Concerto tonight, would you accept?!’

    Temianka: ‘Of course not!’

    Oistrakh: ‘Well, there’s your answer!’

  • Kalman Rubinson says:

    Not just another Finn but yet another Kuusisto.

  • Because he definitely has the talent and skill for it. I’ve been to the same festivals and masterclasses with him. He is as impressive with the stick as with the bow!