He gives his whole body to the performance every time…He gives his soul too. He is a living dream of pianism, having broken through an expressive barrier that other players do not know exists.
-The Sunday Times
As a musical interpreter, Olli Mustonen the conductor is very like Olli Mustonen the pianist. Detail after detail is finely articulated, as though etched with the point of a needle… the clarity and extraordinary finesse yield something I can only describe as visionary.
-BBC Music Magazine
Olli Mustonen has a unique place on today’s music scene. Following the tradition of great masters such as Rachmaninov, Busoni and Enescu, Mustonen combines the roles of his musicianship as composer, pianist and conductor in an equal balance that is quite exceptional. Born in Helsinki, Mustonen began his studies in piano, harpsichord and composition at the age of five. Initially learning with Ralf Gothoni, he subsequently studied piano with Eero Heinonen and composition with Einojuhani Rautavaara.
As a concerto soloist, Mustonen has worked with most of the world’s leading orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and The Royal Concertgebouw, partnering conductors such as Ashkenazy, Barenboim, Blomstedt, Boulez, Chung, Dutoit, Eschenbach, Harnoncourt, Masur, Nagano, Salonen and Saraste. Recent highlights have included complete cycles of the Bartok Piano Concertos with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and of the Beethoven Piano Concertos with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. The latter resulted in a re-invitation to curate the 2014 Metropolis New Music Festival, where Mustonen conducted the world première of his own Sonata for Violin and Orchestra. Other highlights of last season included a tour of the USA with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, concerts with Sakari Oramo at both the BBC Symphony and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic orchestras, and a return to Orchestre de Paris to perform with Paavo Järvi. Mustonen was also invited to be soloist at the Gala Concert and Closing Ceremony of the Winter International Arts Festival in Sochi, performing with the Moscow Soloists Chamber Orchestra under Yuri Bashmet.
As a recitalist, Mustonen plays in all the world’s musical capitals, appearing in recent seasons at the Edinburgh International Festival, Chopin Institute Warsaw, Diaghilev Festival Perm, Mariinsky Theatre St Petersburg, New York Zankel Hall and Sydney Opera House. Among his recital partners are Pekka Kuusisto, with whom he toured in 2013 to include the world première of his own Violin Sonata, and Steven Isserlis, with performances of Mustonen’s Cello Sonata in 2014. The current season sees a new collaboration with Barnabás Kelemen, with whom he appears at Slovenian Philharmonic Hall and Wigmore Hall. Solo recital engagements this season include Wigmore Hall, Tampere Hall, Flagey Piano Days in Brussels, Beethoven-Haus Bonn, Dresden Festival and Ruhr Piano Festival, as well as a recital tour of the USA. Mustonen also gives a recital at the Closing Ceremony of Sviatoslav Richter’s December Nights’ Music Festival in Moscow.
Among Mustonen’s close connections with some of today’s most illustrious musicians is his collaboration with Rodion Shchedrin, who dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 5 to Mustonen and invited him to perform at his 70th, 75th and 80th birthday concerts. In 2013, Mustonen performed Shchedrin’s Piano Concerto No. 4 at Stockholm’s Baltic Sea Festival with the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra under Valery Gergiev. Mustonen’s artistic collaboration with Gergiev is another significant musical relationship; in 2011, he had the honour of closing the Moscow Easter Festival at the personal invitation of Gergiev, in a performance which was televised all over Russia.
A strong exponent of Prokofiev’s music, Mustonen embarks upon a major project this season, performing and recording all of Prokofiev’s Piano Concertos with the Finnish Radio Symphony under Hannu Lintu, as well as performing two of the concertos at the Baltic Sea Festival. Mustonen also presents a full cycle of Prokofiev Piano Sonatas, appearing at Helsinki Music Centre, Lille Piano Festival and Singapore Piano Festival.
Other highlights this season include concerto performances with the Munich Chamber Orchestra, SWR Baden-Baden and the Hungarian National Philharmonic, and play/conduct engagements with the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Novaya Rossiya Symphony, Riga Sinfonietta and Symphony Orchestra Giuseppe Verdi of Milan. Mustonen tours Germany with his own Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Viola and Piano, and performs the world première of his new Piano Quintet at Festival O/Modernt in Stockholm.
Mustonen’s life as a composer is at the heart of both his piano playing and conducting. Mustonen has a deeply held conviction that each performance must have the freshness of a first performance, so that audience and performer alike encounter the composer as a living contemporary. In this respect he recalls Mahler’s famous dictum, that tradition can be laziness, yet he is equally suspicious of the performance that seeks only to be different. This tenacious spirit of discovery leads him to explore many areas of repertoire beyond the established canon.
In recent years, Mustonen has conducted the world premières of both of his large-scale orchestral works: Symphony No.1 Tuuri with the Tampere Philharmonic in 2012; and Symphony No.2 Johannes Angelos with the Helsinki Philharmonic in 2014. Under Mustonen’s baton, the 1st Symphony has gone on to receive further performances with orchestras including the Melbourne Symphony, Tchaikovsky Symphony, Meiningen Court Orchestra and Helsinki Philharmonic. Such is Mustonen’s relationship with the Helsinki Philharmonic that in 12/13 he was invited to be Artist in Residence, featuring him in all three roles of conductor, composer and soloist across a diverse range of concerts.
As well as all the major Finnish orchestras, Mustonen has conducted the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Weimar Staatskapelle, WDR Köln, Camerata Salzburg, Scottish Chamber, Estonian National Symphony, Orchestra della Toscana, Orchestra del Teatro Carlo Felice di Genova, Jerusalem Symphony, NHK Symphony and Queensland and West Australian symphony orchestras.
Olli Mustonen’s recording catalogue is typically broad-ranging and distinctive. His release on Decca of Preludes by Shostakovich and Alkan received the Edison Award and Gramophone Award for the Best Instrumental Recording. In 2002, Mustonen signed to the Ondine label, on which his most recent releases include Respighi’s Concerto in modo Misolidio with Sakari Oramo and the Finnish Radio Symphony and a critically acclaimed disc of Scriabin’s piano music. More recently, Mustonen released a highly-acclaimed recording of his own Cello Sonata on the BIS label, for which he was joined by Steven Isserlis.