Olli Mustonen


orn: June 7, 1967 – Vantaa (Helsinki), Finland

The Finniah pianist and composer, Olli Mustonen, took his first harpsichord lessons at the age of 5 and was taught to play the piano by Ralf Gothóni at the age of 7. A year later he made his first composition attempts, and from 1975 studied composition with Einoiuhani Rautavaara. Soon, Mustonen was much sought after, both as a conductor and as a concert pianist (studies with Eero Heinonen).

Since 1989, Olli Mustonen has been playing an active role in the musical scene of his home country; first, he became artistic director of the Korsholm Music Festival and from 1990 to 1992 of the Turku Music Festival as well. He is co-founder and director of the Helsinki Festival Orchestra, and since 2003 has been conducting the chamber orchestra Tapiola Sinfonietta.

At the heart of Olli Mustonen’s piano playing is his life as a composer; the deeply held conviction that each performance must have all the freshness of a first performance, so that audience and performer alike encounter the composer as a living contemporary. For Mustonen, to follow traditional interpretations unthinkingly is uncreative, but every bit as uncreative is the performance that seeks only to be different. His approach has been fully justified in the success of his career. While trying to keep the summer months free for composition, he maintains successful career as a concert pianist.

Now in his late thirties, Olli Mustonen has established himself as one of the most exciting pianists of his time. His brilliant technique and startling interpretations have challenged and fascinated audiences throughout Europe and America. He has given concerts with numerous major international orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra (London), Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Berliner Philharmoniker, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, and others. In addition, he maintains close working relations with renowned conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, Klaus Tennstedt, Berglund, Pierre Boulez, Myung-Whun Chung, Christoph Eschenbach, and Vegh. He also has special relationships, and tours regularly with the Camerata Academica Salzburg, and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. In recital, he frequently plays in the world’s music capitals including London, Vienna, Paris, Tokyo and Berlin and enjoys significant chamber collaborations with partners including Steven Isserlis and Joshua Bell. He also appears at many leading festivals such as Ravinia, the Hollywood Bowl and Berlin. In 1999, he performed the world première of Rodion Shchedrin’s Piano Concerto No. 5, which is dedicated to him, with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

Olli Mustonen’s recording catalogue is already broad based and exceptionally distinguished. His first release of 24 Preludes and Fugues by Dmitri Shostakovich and ’25 Preludes’ by Charles-Valentin Alkan received both the Edison Award and Gramophone Award for the Best Instrumental Recording in 1992. Ongoing recording plans include solo albums of the complete L.v. Beethoven Variations for piano, and the complete Prokofiev Piano Concertos with the Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and Vladimir Ashkenazy. After recording exclusively for Decca, he signed in autumn 2002 a new recording contract with Ondine Records.

Although he is one of the internationally best-known pianists of his generation, Olli Mustonen considers that composition is equally important for him as a mode of expression. His successful career as a pianist places him in a class by himself, even an outsider among Finnish composers; on the other hand, this has also enabled him to remain aloof of the various schools and styles. His predilection for contrapuntally interwoven compositions and works of the 20th century which take up ideas from the 17th and 18th centuries (e.g. the Bach arrangements by Ferruccio Busoni and the cycles of preludes and fugues by Paul Hindemith or D. Shostakovich), is reflected in his own works as well. The concentration on instrumentation and rhythm as well as the use of genre names such as Gavotte, Toccata or Petite Suite are points in favour of this affinity. His works attain their individuality through their fresh tonal language rooted in the sonority of the music of his come country. He emerged as a composer at the early age of twelve with his Neo-Classical and quite Ravelesque Divertimento (1979) for piano and orchestra. His most significant early work is the Fantasia (1985) for piano and strings, combining Minimalist patterns with Romantically tinted rich harmonies. His later style appeared in more or less its finished form in Toccata (1989) for piano, string quartet and double bass, combining a Romantic idiom with a rhythmic drive harking back to the Brandenburg Concertos of J.S. Bach. Mustonen’s principal works in his later period are the two Nonets (1995, 2000) for two string quartets and double bass, and the Concerto for Three Violins (1998). They explore the Neo-Baroque and Romantic dimensions more profoundly, almost in the manner of a pastiche. The Baroque elements echo Igor Stravinsky’s Pulcinella or the stylizations of Martinu or Ottorino Respighi; these elements dominate the vivacious and rhythmic fast movements, whereas the slow movements are emphatically Romantic.

As both, a composer and an interpreter, Olli Mustonen is “artist in residence” at the Usedom Music Festival in October 2005.