Pekka Kuusisto, a green violinist

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Elegy for the Forest, Pekka Kuusisto’s short film made in collaboration with Greenpeace, aims to build awareness of deforestation. He speaks to Peter Quantrill about combining art and activism

‘It’s quite shocking,’ Pekka Kuusisto tells me, and he is still clearly shaken by the experience of making a short film for Greenpeace about the slow but ever accelerating destruction of the Great Northern Forest, which has for centuries circled the planet like a dark green crown.

The violinist has for a long time pursued a career that involves doing more than just making music. With innovative programmes and partnerships he makes connections – between history and the future, between folk and high culture, between art and life. For 21 years he was artistic director of Our Festival on Lake Tuusula, 25 miles north of his birthplace in the city of Espoo on Finland’s southern coast. Now directed by the Kamus Quartet, the multimedia festival has worked with several major campaigning non-governmental organisations including Greenpeace, which last year took Kuusisto, a sound recordist and a camera crew out to a wilderness two and a half hours’ drive north of Helsinki.

‘The worst part of it,’ remembers Kuusisto, ‘was the little snippet of untouched forest that you see at the beginning of the film – because it really is untouched, and absolutely brimming with activity. And then you walk a few metres, and it’s like a weapons-testing zone.’ Here, in what had been ancient and unmanaged forest, Kuusisto plays a sublime melody written by Thomas Tallis for Archbishop Parker’s psalter: ‘a naive and sentimental choice’, he says, disarmingly, though the effect of it stops listeners in their tracks.

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