In honor of the Sibelius Academy receiving the ASF Gold Medal this spring, celebrated Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen presents the New York Premiere of Mystery Variations – a collection of 31 variations for solo cello by as many contemporary composers based on Italian composer Giuseppe Colombi’s (1635-1694) Chiacona per basso solo, one of the oldest known pieces for the cello.

To celebrate the cellist’s 50th birthday in 2010, his wife, Muriel von Braun, and countrywoman and renowned composer Kaija Saariaho wrote to a number of composers whose music Karttunen had been working, asking each to write a variation on Colombi’s Chiacona. The composers were not told who else was involved in the project, and Karttunen agreed to perform the music before he had seen it – hence the title Mystery Variations.

These 31 variations thus link the very beginning of the cello repertoire with music by some of the most distinguished composers of the present day and, with their distant echo of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 32 Diabelli Variations, provide a showcase for the extraordinary resourcefulness of contemporary cello technique.

This concert was made possible by a contribution from Maire and Carl Gustaf Ehrnrooth. Additional support was provided by the following ASF funds: The Finnish Fund and The Hilppa Roby Fund for Finnish Cultural and Educational Programs at Scandinavia House

About the cellist

Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen is one of the most reputable and versatile musicians on today’s classical music scene. Exceedingly active both as a soloist and chamber musician, his repertoire covers all of the standard works for cello, as well as a myriad of forgotten masterpieces and his own arrangements. He plays on modern, classical, and baroque cellos, as well as the violoncello piccolo.

Karttunen is a passionate advocate for contemporary music. He has performed over 135 world premieres, collaborating with such composers as Magnus Lindberg, Kaija Saariaho, Rolf Wallin, Luca Francesconi, and Tan Dun. An astounding 27 concertos have been written for him; he premiered Magnus Lindberg’s 1st Concerto with the Orchestre de Paris and 2nd Concerto with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Mania with London Sinfonietta, Martin Matalon’s cello concerto with the Orchestre National de France, Luca Francesconi’s Rest with the RAI Torino, and Kaija Saariaho’s Notes on Light with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Karttunen has worked with world-renowned orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC Symphony, Orchestre National de France, NHK Orchestra, Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra, Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic, Ensemble Modern, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Residentie Orchestra, Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Philharmonic, RAI Torino, Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, Avanti!, and many more. He also performs regularly as soloist and chamber musician at Europe’s most important music festivals, including Edinburgh, Salzburg, Lockenhaus, Spoleto, Berlin, Venice, Montpellier, Strasbourg, and Helsinki. His Zebra Trio, with violinist Ernst Kovacic and violist Steven Dann, performs concerts on both sides of the Atlantic. His duo with Magnus Lindberg, Dos Coyotes has performed in all over the globe.

His recordings traverse a broad spectrum of musical taste, from Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano on period instruments, to 20th century solo pieces, to concertos performed with the London Sinfonietta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. He has released recordings of concertos by Lindberg, Saariaho, and Salonen with Sony Classical. With Deutsche Grammophon, he released a DVD of Tan Dun’s The Map for cello, video, and orchestra. He also appeared on the first ever contemporary music CD-ROM, Prisma, featuring the music of Kaija Saariaho. Karttunen is a founding member of, a non-profit organization for the production and sale of CDs and scores over the internet. Two of Anssi Karttunen’s recent recordings were nominated for a Gramophone Award 2013: a CD of Magnus Lindberg’s chamber music works with the composer and the clarinetist Kari Kriikku on Ondine and Henri Dutilleux’ Tout un monde lointain with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under Esa-Pekka Salonen on Deutsche Grammophon, which was chosen as best contemporary recording of the year 2013.

Karttunen studied with Erkki Rautio, William Pleeth, Jacqueline du Pré, and Tibor de Machula, among others. From 1999 until 2005 he was principal cellist with the London Sinfonietta. Between 1994 and 1998, he was the Artistic Director of the Avanti! Chamber Orchestra and the Suvisoitto Festival in Porvoo, Finland. Having directed the Helsinki Biennale in 1995, he has been Artistic Director of its successor, the Musica Nova festival, since the autumn of 2013.

Karttunen frequently teaches masterclasses, for example in 2012 together with Kaija Saariaho at Carnegie Hall, at the 2012 Cello Biennial Amsterdam and regularly since 2008 at the workshop series Creative Dialogue, offered in collaboration with the Sibelius Academy in Santa Fe.

He plays on a Francesco Ruggeri cello.



—Anssi Karttunen— Image by Irmeli Jung.

FRI – 5-2-2014 – 5:00 PM