Alumnus of the week, Eriikka Maalismaa: “Do what you truly want instead of what others expect.”


Jousia Ensemble, Jousia Quartet, Avanti!, Helsinki Philharmonic, Tapiola Sinfonietta, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Turku Philharmonic, Lapland Chamber Orchestra, the BBC Orchestra. For violinist Eriikka Maalismaa, 36, the life of a concertmaster has been far from boring. And yet she still wants to explore and create art outside the norms.

In the autumn of 2016, Maalismaa resigned from her position as a second concertmaster with the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. At that point she had been with the orchestra for a decade, and back then when she had first got her chair, it was the best day of her life. But now, having resigned, she says she couldn’t be happier. There is a time for everything, as the saying goes.

Maalismaa began her studies in 1999 at the Sibelius Academy, aged 19. A move from Oulu to her friends in Helsinki made for a natural transition, but she soon felt a need to put some distance between her and Finland, so she headed to Berlin for her second year to study under Ilan Gronich. ”It was just one big party for me, but don’t write that!” she exclaims.

While there, she got to grips with living abroad and learned how to cope in a foreign culture. After a couple of years in Berlin, Maalismaa headed to the Edsberg Music Institute (to which the beginnings of the Jouisa Quartet can be traced) to study under Mats Zetterqvist and Ulf Wallin. Maalismaa cannot emphasise enough the value of quartet play for anyone working the strings. The four-piece ensemble is the foundation for all chamber music and orchestra play, all the way from intonation to leading.

Maalismaa’s time in Edsberg was an important learning period, and once she graduated in 2006, she chose not to return to the Sibelius Academy. Despite being fresh out of school, she got into the Helsinki Philharmonic. She believes most of her development has taken place in the professional environment, since graduating, and she thinks she’s learned the most important lessons from her colleagues on the job. But when asked what she’d do differently, she replies, “A lot.” She says that she would love to go back and attend all of her music history and theory lessons again – not simply pass them by the skin of her teeth, but really put her mind to it. Many students may not realise that the knowledge and skills acquired there are vital for a chamber musician.

Starting in January 2019 Maalismaa will officially begin her life as a freelance professional chamber musician. She now truly lives as she preaches, doing what she wants rather than stagnating in one place. And she definitely has what it takes. Known to have made the occasional naked snow run and having stirred the pot with her unfiltered opinions more than a few times, Maalismaa has evolved into an incredible genre-crossing musician – and a source of relentlessly determined inspiration to others.


Text: Linda Suolahti
he author is a Sibelius Academy student participating in the student-alumni mentoring programme.