The Finnish violinist and Austrian pianist fire questions at each other for the Musica Viva Festival.
Do great musical minds think alike? Ahead of their appearances in the Musica Viva Festival, violinist Pekka Kuusisto and pianist Christoph Eggner (of the Eggner Trio) ask each other the big questions: about influences, improvising, chamber music, and the merits of Tasmanian oysters vs Viennese schnitzel.
Christoph Eggner interviews Pekka Kuusisto
What are your thoughts on Finnish tango?
I deeply enjoy playing it. I can’t really dance though. A composer called Unto Mononen is the king of this kind of music – or was – he drank himself to death at the age of 37. His song Satumaa is the perfect guide into the world of Finnish tango.
Have you ever been to the northernmost point of your country? What was it like?
Yes, I go at least once a year to the Pallas National Park in Muonio, Lapland. The landscape is very much in legato thanks to the ice age; all the shapes are long and slow. One can find complete peace there and the fact I have not been there for a year now drives me up the wall.
As a musician in Finland, have you come into contact with or did you learn from Russian-educated musicians?
My teachers had many different backgrounds but none of them Russian. The influences were Hungarian, French, Transylvanian, Israeli plus the riches of Ivan Galamian and Josef Gingold, so judging by my teachers’ history I am a complete mess. I have also always played a lot of jazz and other kinds of improvised forms of music that at least on the surface don’t seem like such an important part of the Russian violin school. I did get some wonderful tastes of passionate Russian musicianship through Rostislav Dubinsky’s chamber music coaching at Indiana University, but that’s about it.
Do you see Austria as a “classical music country”, and have you had any interesting performing experiences there?
In Austria, I feel there are strong conservative musical forces and lots of wildly forward-looking people too. My first experience in Vienna was amazing: I played a Bach concerto with a chamber orchestra conducted by Günter Pichler from the Alban Berg Quartet. It was funny to begin with – Bach concertos are really tricky to conduct because they don’t actually need a conductor. Somehow we were not the best of musical friends by the end of the project. I got a message from the maestro saying this kind of performing would hurt my career in Austria. It took me 11 years to get another gig there. I get the feeling that the great traditions and the avant-garde ideas are not yet having fruitful conversations – but maybe a bit of tension between the two keeps the air fresh!
Do you like Wiener Schnitzel and Appel-Strudel?
Yes! Double yes.
Making music on stage and teaching music: how are the two connected for you?
My teaching experience is still quite limited – I have not had long-term pupils – but when I participate in a masterclass one of the things I try to talk about is the performing situation. I like to see people give some thought to the transition from doing all the engineering work in the practice room to handing the results to an audience.
Is Sibelius your music hero?
Yes: one of many, but he does occupy a very special place.
Who is your favourite piano player?
Again there are so many greats – but if I say the one who is on my iPod the most it would be the Swedish jazz pianist Jan Johansson.
Do you prefer playing solo or in chamber music?
A cocktail of everything in the right balance is my cup of tea. I try to get into situations where one kind of musical communication teaches me something about another.
Do you believe in the future of classical music?
I really do, and in the past as well.
Pekka Kuusisto interviews Christoph Eggner
Is improvising something you are interested in?
Improvising is the first and most natural way of making music for me (I was also an organist when I was a student).
Do you consider yourself an improviser in life or do you like to keep a firm grip?
This is always a mixture for me because it depends on the situation.
We are going to Oz so I kind of have to ask – do you like oysters?
Absolutely: especially those one from Tasmania – they’re unmatched!
Do you think recordings have made music richer or poorer?
First of all: richer. And in the same breath: less worthy…
When you are trying out different pianos for a performance, what do you look for?
The piano I’m playing for any given concert is, in that moment, the best piano in all the world. I try to discover the soul of the instrument; I try to discover the most outstanding, best and personal side of this piano.
Do you play other instruments, professionally or for fun?
Yes: organ as mentioned above and years ago, for fun, the electric guitar… that rocks!
Do you like Finland?
I’ve never been there, but Finland for me symbolises endless concentration. I would love to visit.