Photo: Tommi Kolunen

Conductor Jukka Iisakkila: “Focus on the present.”


Jukka Iisakkila's career as a conductor has taken him across three continents and to most Nordic concert halls. Iisakkila won the Helsingborg Conductors' Award and placed third in the Jorma Panula Conducting Competition in 2004. He was also the Chief Conductor of Pori Sinfonieta until 2012. Today, Iisakkila is a regular guest conductor for the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra as well as the Artistic Director of the Sääksmäki Soi festival.

Iisakkila counts Jorma Panula, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Alan Gilbert among his most important teachers, but he’s quick to add that he’s been greatly influenced by all the musicians and teachers who have guided him since early childhood. Iisakkila credits Panula for teaching him what it means to be a good conductor and Gilbert for teaching him to understand tones.

“I don’t understand musicians who only conduct”

Iisakkila thinks it is vital for musicians to understand why the presence of a conductor is essential. The job of the conductor is to get to the heart of the music and to lead the orchestra so they enjoy playing the piece together. The conductor must know the music inside and out, and to do this, he or she must approach the piece from various angles. Iisakkila still plays percussion, guitar and piano, as well as arranges and composes music. He also improvises and performs with many bands, playing music from various genres. To him, versatility and a lifelong commitment to learning are crucial, as is always maintaining a childlike and innovative outlook. It is for these reasons that Iisakkila has worked with Steve Vai, for example, and familiarised himself with the Indian Solfège method of Konnakol.

The influence of his own personal charisma is something that Iisakkila hasn’t given much thought. He believes self-knowledge is key. According to Iisakkila, an ideal conductor feels at ease in front of an orchestra, able to fully control his own movements and energy. When teaching, Iisakkila stresses that you first need to teach your right hand the music and then teach it how to release that music. Your gestures are a metaphor for the music.

It’s inspiring to sit down with Iisakkila and ponder not only the importance of success but also how crucial it is to get all you can out of the music and the musicians you're working with in that moment. It is about focusing on the present and not letting yourself be distracted by thinking about what may lie ahead.

“I believe we get to do the things we dream about. We move towards them with small steps that eventually bring us closer to our greater goals,” Iisakkila notes.

“We should build our careers by working hard – every day. There are no shortcuts.”

Today, Iisakkila's main goals in life are to be a perfect dad and to be as honest with himself as possible in everything he does. Looking back over the past decades, he feels privileged and happy to have been connected to music in so many different ways. Iisakkila hopes others have enjoyed the journey as much as he has.

Text: Dimas Ruiz-Santos
The author is a Sibelius Academy student participating in the student-alumni mentoring programme.