From baton to bow

TOM CARDY
Last updated 05:00 07/11/2012
Pietari Inkinen
OLIVIA TAYLOR
Fine tuning: Pietari Inkinen rehearses with his violin. He will play for the first time with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra on Saturday.

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When Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen was appointed the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra's music director five years ago, there was only a passing mention that Inkinen played the violin. Then 27, he was one of the youngest musicians appointed to the NZSO position.

Also mentioned at the time was that Inkinen conducted his first orchestra when he was only 14 and that he also used to play guitar in a heavy metal band.

Inkinen has since been at the helm, conducting the NZSO, organising repertoire and tours. But it has taken until this week for NZSO audiences to finally have a chance to witness Inkinen the violinist. He will perform Bach's Concerto for Two Violins alongside NZSO concert master and fellow Finn Vesa-Matti Leppanen with the orchestra.

Inkinen says until now the only time he played the violin in New Zealand had been a few occasions in chamber music concerts with Leppanen. "So we've done a few things together, but we have planned for quite some time already that I would eventually play with the orchestra as well. It [seemed] very natural to play together with Vesa-Matti and do the Bach."

Aspiring violinists at some point always try Two Violins, so Inkinen first played the piece when he was young. "You will try to play it with a mate of yours and that was certainly the case with me, although I can't exactly remember when I first performed it. But I performed it a lot during intervals in my career."

Inkinen says because Leppanen is also Finnish, some people assume that they already knew each other before Inkinen joined the NZSO. But neither had met until Inkinen became music director. Prior to that Inkinen says the closest link they had was him knowing Leppanen's younger sister. They had played together in a youth orchestra. "I knew of him through her but it was through the NZSO that we finally met."

When Inkinen and Leppanen perform in Wellington on Saturday it will represent a challenge for the maestro. They will play the Bach double without a conductor for the NZSO. Instead the orchestra will have to follow both violinists in a similar fashion to a chamber music performance.

After playing, Inkinen then returns to the podium to conduct Mahler's demanding Seventh Symphony. "It's a very different kind of concentration. It's trying to take the hours to practice and be in shape with the violin and then on the other hand prepare and conduct the Seventh Symphony.

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"It's a massive piece. There's immaculate preparation and attention to detail. There's also strength and stamina [needed] from players and the conductor."

Bach's Two Violins, completed in 1731, is considered the best of his violin concertos. Mahler's complex Seventh Symphony, completed in 1905, mixes allusions to Offenbach's Can-Can and Wagner's Die Meistersinger and includes important parts for mandolin and guitar. While the works are 174 years apart, Inkinen says the contrasts will make the concert more engaging for the audience. "We start with this chamber music-like intimate atmosphere of the Bach concerto. [Then] Mahler requires all these extreme things, including mandolin and guitar, all the possible things you can add to an orchestra."

Inkinen says while the concert has been long in the planning, he hasn't ruled out future NZSO concerts where he will swap the baton for the bow. He takes his violin with him whenever he travels. Last week it was to Switzerland where he was visiting his girlfriend. "It's a tricky instrument. You need to keep up otherwise you will not be in shape. It's absolutely crucial for me. I have to travel with it all the time."

So any thoughts of swapping conducting for the violin? "Conducting is incredibly rewarding." he says. "It is a very unique job. But, of course, growing up with the instrument, I played a lot of wonderful things in concerts. And once you get back into it, you get all the feelings and memories of that and producing the sound, right there. At the moment, it's a nice balance."

- Pietari Inkinen and Vesa-Matti Leppanen with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra will play in Wellington, Napier, Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch. See dates here.

- The Dominion Post

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