It's not often a conductor gets off the podium and picks
up his instrument to play with the orchestra, but NZSO music
director Pietari Inkinen is doing just that. Charmian Smith
NZSO music director Pietari Inkinen plays the violin. Photo
by Olivia Taylor.
After conducting Mozart's Symphony No 29
NZSO's forthcoming concert tour, conductor Pietari Inkinen will
make a quick dash to his dressing room to pick up his violin
then return to the stage to perform Bach's Concerto for Two
alongside concertmaster Vesa-Matti Leppänen.
It is unusual for a conductor to perform in one of his or her
own concerts, but a few manage to continue to play their
instruments, Inkinen says in a phone interview from
Switzerland where he lives. He was shortly to fly to New
Zealand for this series of concerts.
He likes to perform on the violin a couple of times a year
when his busy conducting schedule permits, sometimes in part
of an orchestral concert he is conducting, and sometimes with
a chamber group, he says.
In his native Finland, he is leader of the Inkinen piano trio
which, sadly, he doesn't have time to work with often, and at
other times he plays with members of one of the orchestras he
knows well. The last time he performed on the violin in New
Zealand was in a benefit concert with members of the NZSO in
Wellington for victims of the Japanese earthquake, organised
by the principal bass, who is from Japan, he says.
Inkinen, who was born and educated in Finland, started to
play the violin when he was 4. It was so long ago, he does
not remember much, he says, but he was encouraged by his
parents to try all sorts of hobbies. Among other interests
and sports, the violin turned out to be what he liked best
and the others fell away, one by one.
"I liked the sound of the violin and also to some extent I
liked that challenge. It's a difficult instrument to play and
I always liked a good challenge, so I guess that was one of
the things, and after practising hard [playing] something
difficult, and to see it improve and sound nice at the end -
it's very rewarding."
He also played piano and at school played electric guitar in
a rock band, but gave them up as he concentrated on violin
He started studying conducting at the age of 14 and as his
career took off, conducting began to take more of his time.
"Such invitations came I couldn't say no to, then slowly,
slowly my calendar started to shift towards conducting," he
Now in his early 30s, he is principal guest conductor of the
Japan Philharmonic Orchestra in Tokyo as well as NZSO music
director, and conducts in Europe, America and Asia, which
fills his calendar, he says.
"With the number of concerts as a conductor, and a huge
amount of repertoire coming in all the time, it takes a bit
of organising to block time to play the violin and to keep in
He often travels with his violin, especially when he has a
performance coming up, and practises in his dressing room
during breaks from rehearsing an orchestra.
His performing partner in the Bach double concerto is fellow
Finn Vesa-Matti Leppänen, the NZSO concert master. It is not
surprising the orchestra has two Finns because Finland, with
a population comparable to New Zealand's, has a strong,
internationally recognised musical education system.
Anybody, anywhere in the country, has free access to decent
teaching and an instrument, he says.
"There are specialised music schools which I went through
where you have an hour of music lessons each day and sing in
a choir and do other musical things. You don't need to belong
to a rich family to start as a hobby - in some countries that
is the case. The most talented people get filtered usually to
Helsinki and the Sibelius Academy and become professionals.
It's a system that works well,"
Many people start playing an instrument and learn to love
music even though they don't become professionals, but they
become a very knowledgeable audience, and that is also
important, he says.
The Bach double concerto is played with a small orchestra so
it has a chamber music feel, and it's natural to perform it
as a music ensemble without a conductor.
It's a gorgeous piece in a minor key, neither too dramatic
nor too sad, with overlapping phrases of counterpoint, he
The concert starts with Mozart's 29th symphony, a joyful,
happy piece inspired by a visit to Vienna, and finishes with
Beethoven's 7th symphony which has a dramatic slow movement
and lively fireworks in the finale. Composed in the aftermath
of the Napoleonic Wars, and premiered in 1813 to benefit
wounded soldiers, it is full of dancing rhythms and driving
"It's a very nice programme for a newcomer who's never been
to a concert and a seasoned listener would know all these
pieces well. They are much-loved pieces, as popular as ever
and it's great to hear them live," he says.
See it, hear it
• The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Pietari
Inkinen, gives a concert in the Regent Theatre, Dunedin on
Wednesday, November 21, at 6.30pm. They will perform Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart's Symphony No. 29 in A Major K 201;
J.S. Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor BWV
1043 with soloists Pietari Inkinen and Vesa-Matti
Leppänen; and Ludwig Van Beethoven's Symphony No 7 in A
Major Op. 92.
Peter Walls will give a pre-concert talk from 5.45pm to