Outside the box. Three words that seem to encapsulate Eriikka Maalismaa’s artistic personality, if such a banal phrase can be used without doing an injustice to a life philosophy that shuns all clichés. Like so many concert violinists, Maalismaa is the product of a conservative instrumental education and has worked in musical communities that fiercely guard their traditions. However, without the experience of the rhythms and traditions of a life in classical music, it is doubtful whether she would have grown into the artist she is today, one who is at home performing on both sides of the box’s edge.
“I’m passionate about being a real artist; I would never want to be just a brainless playing machine. I couldn’t bear it. I really want to maintain that sense of excitement, of wonder and humour in my music-making until the day I retire,’ says Maalismaa.
Maalismaa was first introduced to the world of classical music at the age of six. She recalls that this was the joint decision of her mother and the local music school. Initially she also enjoyed performing in the theatre, but as a teenager she was faced with making the tough decision of choosing between her two artistic personalities, and this time the violin won the day. However, she never turned her back on the theatre, and the desire to create artistic experiences in collaboration with other people continued to grow. As a member of the Jousia String Quartet, Maalismaa won numerous prizes in the mid 2000s. Since then, Jousia has grown from a quartet into a small chamber orchestra. Making music together with other musicians has been a source of inspiration for Maalismaa right from the outset.
“It’s important for me to explore what sounds and phrases feel like, how they interact with one another, and to think about what the composer might have meant. I think about what I want to say, too. There’s simply no greater feeling in this profession than putting on an excellent performance with a group of friends and colleagues and bringing the music into lucid focus.”
In 2006 Maalismaa joined the ranks of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Over the years she has also performed as guest concert master and section leader with groups including Tapiola Sinfonietta, Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, the Lapland Chamber Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. In 2016, after eight years as assistant concert master at the Helsinki Philharmonic, she decided to leave the position and start out a freelance musician once again.
“My sense of idealism certainly hasn’t disappeared after eight years in the orchestra. I’m at my happiest when there are lots of musical projects going on at once and keeping me busy, because then I feel like I can make the world a better place – the musical world, at least. I wake up in the morning ready to do things that make me happy, things that mean I can look out into the audience and see someone smiling.”
Outside the box, Maalismaa is involved in organising cross-disciplinary performances with numerous chamber groups and musical ‘think tanks’. She is a founding member of the Ristiveto festival, which showcases music performed on gut strings, and the Härö Collective, which specialises in contemporary music and in bringing different branches of the arts together. Additionally, she plays in a duo with pianist Emil Holmström, and the two are regularly joined by cellist Markus Hohti to form a piano trio. Alongside the violin, Maalismaa can also be spotted playing the trombone and the ukulele. Contemporary music has a lasting place in Maalismaa’s life.
“Having given countless première performances and after years of playing with Avanti!, I find myself on the front line of collaboration with living composers. I want to be involved in helping them fulfil their calling by commissioning new works and performing them well, though they often require strange playing techniques.”
By Jaani Länsiö
Translated by David Hackston