Like many artists, to whom music is a life-long passion, Jaakko Kuusisto (violin) and Iiro Rantala (piano) have found no limits to their musical creativity, which brings them together also for this duo project. They are both amazingly versatile musicians, having not only remarkable solo careers but also a vast record of prizes in competitions, acknowledgements and nominations as well as astonishing lists of compositions in different genres.
But let’s give them the floor in the limelight and see how they themselves describe their musical careers:
Jaakko Kuusisto: “I was born in 1974 and was surrounded by music since my early childhood. My musical career as a violinist and later on as conductor and composer was launched in 1989 when, at the age of 15, I won the national violin competition in Kuopio. I studied the violin with professors Géza Szilvay and Tuomas Haapanen at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and continued my studies with Miriam Fried and Paul Biss at Indiana University, and was awarded prizes at major international violin competitions, including the Sibelius, Indianapolis, Carl Nielsen and Queen Elisabeth competitions. I have performed as soloist with the Minnesota Orchestra, Sydney Symphony, Sao Paulo Symphony, BBC Symphony and most Finnish orchestras, to name but a few.
In 1999 I was appointed concertmaster of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and since then my collaboration with the orchestra has taken on many forms. I have recorded, among other violin works, Rautavaara’s Violin concerto and Aho’s Symphony no. 3 for violin and orchestra, and served as soloist in many concerts both in Lahti and on tour. I first conducted the Lahti Symphony in 2002, and nowadays I regularly conduct the orchestra in concerts and recordings with a wide variety of repertoire, including symphony concerts, popular/rock programs and the orchestra’s annual Spring Festival. I combined the roles of arranger and conductor in the orchestra’s best-selling collaboration with the vocal group Rajaton, resulting in two platinum-selling albums.
As guest conductor, I have worked with, among others, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Hobart, Adelaide and Melbourne Symphonies in Australia, deFilharmonie in Antwerp, BBC Concert Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Avanti! and the chamber orchestras of Lausanne and Tallinn. I’ve also had an extended collaboration with the Oulu Symphony, serving as principal guest conductor from 2005 to 2009.
I studied composition with Eero Hämeenniemi at the Sibelius Academy and David Dzubay at Indiana University. The core of my work list consists of chamber music for strings and piano, but I’ve also composed three operas and the music score to the film Under the North Star, a major Finnish release, and earned a nomination of best film score at the Finnish motion picture awards in 2011. My latest work is a violin concerto commissioned by Elina Vähälä, premiered in April 2012 together with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra and conducted by me.
My instrument is a Matteo Goffriller violin dated 1702.”
Iiro Rantala: “I got interested in music already as a child and thus I attended a Music School in Käpylä and was also a member of the famous Cantores Minores Choir. My formal musical education, however, started first in Oulunkylä Pop & Jazz Conservatory, from where I continued my studies in Sibelius Academy’s prestigious Jazz Department and in Manhattan School of Music.
At the moment I’m touring with the solo project “Lost Heroes” in Europe and Australia, but along the years I have had several bands: with Trio Töykeät (1988–2006) we had circa 2000 concerts in 40 different countries and won the first prize in Hoilaart International Jazz Contest Belgium in 1988. After that came, among others, Tango Kings, Trio Forrester, Akimowskja Sisters & Brothers, SaloRantala Soi and Iiro Rantala New Trio. I’ve also performed together for instance with violinists Pekka and Jaakko Kuusisto, having programs that break the conventional rules of musical genres. As a classical music soloist, I’ve performed with nearly all of the Finnish orchestras and ensembles and worked with conductors like Sakari Oramo, John Storgårds, Leif Segerstam, Dimitri Sloboniuk, Jaakko Kuusisto and Jukka-Pekka Saraste.
Besides being a musician, I also compose. Over the years my compositions have accompanied over 20 theatre and dance productions, among which are several theater pieces by Kari Heiskanen and Neil Hardwick for Helsinki City Theatre and by Raila Leppäkoski and Juha Siltanen for Ryhmäteatteri. For dance productions I have cooperated frequently with directors like Tarja Rinne and Tommi Kitti. I’ve also written music for films such as Tango Kabaree (2002) by Pekka Lehto and for the popular Finnish children’s films Risto Räppääjä (2007–2012).
One of my occupations has also been hosting different radio and TV programs. The Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE) has produced many of them, includingRinnakkaisohjelma (Side Program) and Sovitetut Toiveet (Arranged Wishes), both in Radio 1 – as well as the YLE TV 1 and YLE TEEMA’s programs Iirottelua and Iiro Irtiduring the recent years. Coevally I’ve been teaching in Sibelius Academy (2005–2006), Pop & Jazz Conservatory in 2010 and in Australian National Music Academy in 2011, to name a few.
I have been happy to receive grants for one year (1991–1992) and for five years (1997–2004) from the Finnish Arts Council. In 1995 I won the prizes of Jazz Recording of the Year and the Emma prize, and received recently the German Critics’ Award (2011). I was also the Artistic Director of Dubrovnik Jazz Club from 2005 to 2006, and currently hold the position of the AD of Sipoo Kalkkijazz Festival and Kapsäkki Jazz Piano Festival. Furthermore, since 1994 I have been the Good Will Ambassador of the Finnish Unicef.”