The world of music has lost an irreplaceable source of inspiration. Violinist, conductor and composer Jaakko Kuusisto is no longer with us. He died of a severe illness on 23 February 2022.
Jaakko Kuusisto only lived for 48 years, but he made the most of those years and built several careers. Initially known as a violinist, he was successful in competitions, performed as a soloist with various orchestras, played chamber music, was the concertmaster of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, made recordings, and mastered every genre of music with equal brilliance.
As time passed, the multi-talented musician became increasingly sought-after as a conductor, too. He led orchestras across Finland and the world and was appointed the principal guest conductor of the Oulu Symphony Orchestra and later the chief conductor of the Kuopio Symphony Orchestra. In addition to this, he has been the artistic director of the Oulu Music Festival, the deputy chairman of the Arts Promotion Centre’s Central Arts Council, and a city councillor for Oulu. Thanks to his broad expertise, exceptional work ethic, sharp intellect, humane outlook on life, and calm, approachable character, Jaakko Kuusisto was trusted with a remarkable array of responsibilities.
In recent years Jaakko Kuusisto established his reputation as an excellent composer. He wrote several critically acclaimed concertos, of which his virtuoso violin concerto met with particular success. It’s easy to understand the popularity of his compositions, as they are received enthusiastically by both the performers and the audience. They combine catchy melodic substance with emotionally appealing harmonics, exuberant rhythms, and radiant orchestral tones.
Kuusisto always had a talent for opera. Starting with the children’s opera the Canine Kalevala, he then created various small-scale productions and two full-length operas. Jaakko Kuusisto’s collaboration with the Finnish National Opera began with Indigo, an opera he edited, arranged and orchestrated as well as conducted in 2016. Next up, he was commissioned to compose the opera Ice. The subject matter was close to his heart, as he was used to travelling at sea and had spent a year in Utö in the outer archipelago of Finland. The music of the opera convincingly reflects the islands’ winter storms and gentle summer breezes.
Immensely popular in 2019, Ice was one of the high points of Jaakko Kuusisto’s life and career. It wasn’t long until he was faced with dramatic news. A brain tumour found in summer 2020 turned out to be malignant. Jaakko Kuusisto spoke openly of his illness, and the entire music community followed the progress of his treatment with great empathy. To everyone’s joy and gratitude, Jaakko Kuusisto returned to work after an operation and conducted the performances of Ice in good health in autumn 2020. His career continued and life went on, but Jaakko Kuusisto knew he was walking on thin ice, which could break at any time. That eventually happened in December 2021.
In autumn 2018, the rehearsals of Ice first reached the scene, in which the wife of the priest sings a farewell aria by the side of her drowned husband. ”The minutes turn into hours and days, taking our life together further and further, I try to reach it but I no longer can, I can’t get it back as time carries you away like a stream.” The aria was cut short as the singers broke into tears, so emotionally charged were the music and the situation. No one knew then how quickly Jaakko Kuusisto’s minutes, hours and days would come to an end.
Text by Juhani Koivisto
Koivisto has written the librettos for Jaakko Kuusisto’s operas Elämälle! (To life!) and Ice.
The recording of Ice will be published later today at Yle Areena and the Finnish National Opera and Ballet’s Stage24 service. It will be available to watch until 20 May. Ice will also be broadcast on television on Yle Teema on 20 March at 2:10 p.m.