The last concert of the season for the Phil closed with roars of applause and approval for Esa-Pekka Salonen‘s Piano Concerto, given its premiere last year by the New York Philharmonic. Listening to the broadcast of that performance was only a weak preparation for what we heard and felt yesterday. It seemed as if the whole audience was, like me, swept up and carried away by the music. And what a performance it was! The concert was recorded by DG, for which we are grateful, and I’ll download it on release. Yefim Bronfman was the soloist, as he has been in all prior performances. The orchestra was at their best.

In this work Salonen’s compositional styles seem to have taken a new step in evolution. Who would have imagined that this seemingly-cool, calm, analytical Finn would become such an emotional composer? The music is very busy, with many lines and rhythms, but it has an emotional sweep and surge that I haven’t heard in earlier music. “Wing on Wing” for instance doesn’t really make you feel you’re on the boat with its spinnaker and mainsail extended into the wind; it’s a nice picture, but you aren’t caught up by it. The music of the concerto catches you, gives you no time to think, and moves you into its world. I don’t know what to call the style. “Neo-romantic” isn’t quite right. “Neo-emotional” isn’t right. Maybe “contemporary” will just have to do for a while. The music seems right and very much for today. Salonen wrote some really excellent program notes.

The rest of the program ending with the concerto comprised to pieces of today looking back at yesterday. The concert began with the West Coast premiere of Colin Matthews‘ orchestration (and adaptation) of four Debussy preludes for piano; this was followed by a Matthews “Postlude” in which he tried to create a sound portrait of Debussy. This was a decent job of orchestration, except for the fact that his reinterpretation of “The Girl with Flaxen Hair” was too different from my memory, and I didn’t like that change.

Then the orchestra, the Master Chorale and four soloists gave the world premiere of Steven Stucky‘s orchestration of “Les noces”. I thought it was interesting, but not wholly successful in its result. Stucky’s program notes state that he was careful not to try to create a new sound as Stravinsky might have imagined. Perhaps he was too respectful to have the result more than “interesting”. The Stucky orchestration lets you hear the internals of the work more easily than is the case with the density of the four pianos in Stravinsky’s definitive fifth version of the work, but in performance I missed the verve and spark of that version. Perhaps I would have liked the result more if Stucky had gone back to an earlier Stravinsky idea of pitting two string quartets, one playing only pizzicato. Stucky’s notes say that the idea came from Salonen, looking for a work to share a program with “Rite of Spring”. That might have worked out differently for me.

Thursday is the start of the Ojai Music Festival. Prior to the concert there will be a special gathering of bloggers, sponsored by the Festival, and Alan Rich will be honored and welcomed into the blogging world. Now that my schedule is back to enabling me to write about my hobby, I’ll be there.

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