On Friday evening, the first snow cast its veil over my hometown. Despite the frost, Olli Mustonen’s concert at the Turku Concert Hall got people on the move. The crowd was anxious to see the golden boy of the 1980s, who is still going strong. Pianist, conductor and composer Mustonen displayed a great talent, winning a Maj Lind Piano Competition at the age of 12. Now in his late 40s he is one of the most active Finnish artists with 70 concerts per year. This concert featured not only pieces by Beethoven, Mozart and Hindemith but also his own string composition Triptych which premiered last January in Helsinki.

Olli Mustonen © Outi Montosen
Olli Mustonen
© Outi Montosen

The Turku Philharmonic offered us a warm welcome with Beethoven’s overture The Consecration of the House, Mustonen bending his knees and rising rapidly for the first accents, bringing out the heroic nature of the music with its marching rhythm and triumphant brass calls.

Mustonen’s conducting was interesting to watch. His gestures were extravagant but not exaggerated. He lets himself go with the emotion but still holds all the strings in his hands. You could also hear his heels hit the ground when he jumped from excitement. Furthermore his laid-back platform manner was an icebreaker.

The evening proceeded with Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 24 in C minor. Whereas Glenn Gould sometimes acted like he was conducting, Mustonen really did. Known for being a man of many talents, Mustonen was both soloist and conductor, showcasing great virtuosity in his lightning fast arpeggios. Between solos, he stood to conduct.

Mustonen’s new piece Triptych was written for strings. The piece had interesting parallel rhythmic patterns that almost had a minimalist quality. It also had same kind of mysterious haunting atmosphere as created by Penderecki, Ligeti or even film composer Bernard Hermann with open intervals, dissonances and screeching high-pitched violins. This mystic nature could be due to his teacher, the late great Einojuhani Rautavaara, who saw a composer as a midwife between this world and the beyond, where all the music came from. All and all it was a fascinating piece but it did not offer anything groundbreaking.

Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) was born in Germany but left his native land when fascists claimed power. The Nazis considered his music "degenerate" calling Hindemith “an atonal noisemaker”. In his neoclassical work Hindemith combines contrapuntal language of Bach to Mozart’s classical clarity.

The Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria Von Weber features a typical Romantic-size orchestra with woodwinds, brass section, strings and various percussions. Above all the grandiose sounds there is a glittering glockenspiel and chimes to polish up the timbre. One of the highlights was the final march, where powerful brass flourishes swept over us like a blizzard. These kinds of moments make going to a concert worthwhile.

Concerts showcasing virtuosity and expertise lighten up the darkest times of the year in Finland. On the wild frontier of classical music, Mustonen sure has earned his spurs as a man of many talents. But as a relatively young composer his glory days may still lie ahead. Who knows if he will be in the canon of the Finnish composers among with Rautavaara, Einar Englund or Kalevi Aho?

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