Sibelius, Pekka and sisu

Described as ‘part cherub, part elf’, Finnish violinist, Pekka Kuusisto, whipped up a ‘fiddle party’ for the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) in March, inviting Finnish folk tunes, Sibelius, and Bach  to share the stage together. The ACO has a real affinity with Finland, having two resident Finns in the orchestra – Timo Vaike-Valve and Satu Vanska – as well as commissioning pieces from contemporary Finnish composers.  Kuusisto is regularly invited back to Australia as a guest conductor. Even Andrew Ford’s opening piece in this concert, Bright Shiners, can claim a Finnish connection, as Ford is married to a Finn.

Pekka Kuusisto

Pekka Kuusisto

I thoroughly enjoyed Kuusisto’s joyful, foot stomping style and cheeky insouciance. For me, this is what a classical concert in the 21st century should be – moving AND fun. The world premiere of Sketches from Folkscenes by Finnish composer, Timo Alakotila, attracted criticism for its derivative style and length. While it did drag on a bit, what I took away was the extraordinary sight of the entire orchestra stomping their feet, singing out loud, and laughing as they tried to keep up with Kuusisto’s effervescent leadership.

On the ACO blog, you can find Pekka Kuusisto talking about why he loves Australia (the beer is cheaper than in Finland), his thinking behind the ACO program, Sibelius and sisu.

As Kuusisto reminds us, Sibelius really struggled with composing, especially in his later life. “One of our national treasures is this character of sisu,” Pekka says, “whether you’re trying to write another symphony or win the Winter War against Russia, or whenever you need a super human power to take you through a situation so you can emerge on the other side of difficulties having learned something and having not given up on who you are – that’s one of the most important things about sisu. Even through freezing temperatures, wind and ice, Sibelius has everything left when a piece is finished and more than he started with.”


Vincent Plush, ‘Folk trips up Finnish brilliance’, The Australian, March 17, 2009

Pekka Kuusisto, ‘On Sibelius and Sisu’, ACO blog: