Anssi Karttunen

Anssi Karttunen

About Anssi Karttunen

The Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen leads a career as a soloist, recitalist and chamber-music player, performing extensively with many of the worlds leading orchestras and musicians.

Anssi Karttunen performs all the standard cello works, has discovered many forgotten masterpieces and transcribed numerous pieces for cello, or chamber ensembles. He is a passionate advocate of contemporary music and his collaboration with composers has led him to give over 180 world premieres of works by composers as diverse as Vinko Globokar, Pascal Dusapin, Rolf Wallin, Luca Francesconi and Tan Dun.

Among the works Karttunen has premiered are 30 works for cello and orchestra, such as: Tan Dun’s Cello Concerto “Yi1”, Magnus Lindberg’s 2 Cello Concertos, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Concerto “Mania”, Luca Francesconi’s Cello Concerto “Rest” and Jukka Tiensuu’s “Oire”. Kaija Saariaho’s Concerto “Notes on Light” was a Boston Symphony Orchestra commission for Anssi Karttunen. In October 2018 he gave the premiere of Betsy Jolas’s “Side Roads” with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and just a few weeks later her “Woman in evening” for cello and piano.

He plays with many of the best orchestras of the world and in recitals and chamber music at major cities and festivals in Europe, North and South Americas, Asia, Australia and North Africa.

Karttunen plays in the Zebra Trio with the violinist Ernst Kovacic and violist Steven Dann. He appears in recitals with Nicolas Hodges, with the composer-pianist Magnus Lindberg and with the multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones. He collaborates with choreographers, visual artists and performs and improvises on electric cello.

The CD´s of Anssi Karttunen range from Bach on a Violoncello Piccolo, Beethoven on a classical cello to concertos with London Sinfonietta, Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestra with Esa-Pekka Salonen. Sony Classical issued the Concertos of Lindberg, Saariaho and Salonen. Deutsche Grammophon issued a DVD of Tan Dun’s The Map for cello, video and Orchestra and a CD of Henri Dutilleux’s Tout un monde lointain (Grammophon Award 2013). Recent CDs include also Brahms’s Chamber Music and a solo recital on Toccata Classics, Saariaho Trios and Lindberg Cello music on Ondine, Tangos on Albany Records and Colin Matthews’s Cello Concerto 2 for NMC.

Karttunen’s transcriptions include Brahms’s Piano Quintet for String Quintet and Händel-Variations op. 24 for String Trio, Schumann’s Cello Concerto for Cello and String Orchestra and Album for the Young for String Trio. Many of his transcriptions and CDs are available on

Between 1994 and 1998 Karttunen was the artistic director of the Avanti!-Chamber Orchestra. He was the artistic director of the 1995 Helsinki Biennale and the Suvisoitto-festival in Porvoo, Finland from 1994 to 1997. He was the artistic director of the Musica nova Helsinki festival in 2015. From 1999 to 2005 Anssi Karttunen was the principal cellist of the London Sinfonietta.

Anssi Karttunen created in 2007 together with Kaija Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg the Creative Dialogue workshop in Santa Fe, NM and has led it ever since.

The teachers of Karttunen included Erkki Rautio, William Pleeth, Jacqueline du Pré and Tibor de Machula. He teaches at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris.

Anssi Karttunen plays a cello by Francesco Ruggeri.

The “Instead” List

While the list of pieces that appear in cello-piano recitals is incredibly short - same 10 pieces keep circulating in different order - we cellists actually have very large repertoire. Orchestras don't program much more than 10 Concertos and apart the Bach Suites there are maybe 5 pieces that make their way to concert programs. There are always multiple reasons for great music falling out of general attention. It may have to do with style, gender, origin, problems of notation, lack of publisher, wrong publisher, fashion, lack of social skill, too keen self promotion or any combination of these. Often the reasons have nothing to do with the quality of the music. And the quality itself is totally dependent on who is the messenger, in the wrong hands most music [...]

The Shape of Brahms: Looking at His Music

Brahms the Architect One of the keys to understanding the music of Johannes Brahms is through his use of shapes and sizes and the manipulation of them in building his architectural forms. He was always stretching motives and phrases, making them overlap, go in and out of sync, hiding the bar-line and bringing it in sight again. Irregular phrase lengths, hemiolas, working with conflicting slurs in order to make us unsure where the strong beat is - he had many tools to confuse us. What this playing with blocks of material means for us performers is that one should not fall in love with only one line and its details, everything is always part of a larger picture and while detail is important it always relates to larger structures. I [...]

By |2019-11-12T16:25:43+00:00March 9th, 2019|Categories: In the Practice Room|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Finding Dvorak’s Cello Concerto

As I often perform concertos that were either written for me or that few others play, it is always a welcome and special occasion when I am invited to play one of the well-known masterpieces of our repertoire. When that happens I try to take a fresh look at the piece. A couple of years ago I was asked to play the Dvorak Concerto at a cello festival in Beauvais, France. As several years had passed since I last played it I decided to take this as a challenge to see if I my experience of working with living composers would reveal any surprises in a piece that we all know so well. I studied the piece over 35 years ago with at least three of my teachers: William Pleeth, [...]

By |2019-11-18T15:01:52+00:00February 9th, 2019|Categories: In the Practice Room|Tags: , , , |

Understanding Teachers (Part 2)

Jackie and "Hansen" Very often people ask me to talk about my studies with Jacqueline de Pré but for years I desperately tried to avoid the subject, it was almost impossibly painful for me to talk about her. I used to think this was a personal problem of mine. Over the years, meeting other cellists who studied with her, I've understood that we had all had very similar difficulties talking about her. We all studied with her after she had already had to stop playing. When I met her, at 18, I knew her playing only through recordings. I was full of admiration for her but not at all prepared to the shattering experience it was to get to know her. It would take years to sort out myself from [...]

By |2019-01-18T00:51:19+00:00January 18th, 2019|Categories: Teaching|Tags: , , |

Understanding Teachers (Part 1)

This article in two parts is a self-examination in trying to understand what all my different teachers have finally meant for me. I needed years of distance and experience to even start to be able to analyze these complex relationships. It is normal to admire the most recent teacher and feel that the earlier ones were less important and this clouds the fact that we carry them all equally throughout our lives. I originally wrote this text for myself, to get an idea how my feelings had changed over the years and it proved very revealing for myself. I have accepted now to share it so that others might be inspired to make the same experiment. The summer music camps in the 1970s in Finland were goldmines for us young [...]

By |2019-05-27T20:51:50+00:00January 17th, 2019|Categories: Teaching|Tags: , , |