Last night Salonen conducted the premiere of his new Violin Concerto, performed by Leila Josefowicz. You can be sure there’s a lot of advance buzz about a piece when the Wall Street Journal publishes an essay about the soloist of a piece of classical music; unfortunately, much of the WSJ is protected by a subscription-only wall, but here’s the link in case you are willing to try. The work was initially scheduled for premiere back in January when Salonen conducted the Chicago Symphony, but it wasn’t ready and he substituted performance of the new Los Angeles Symphony (No. 4) by Arvo Part. The new Part symphony is a major and important work, but I don’t think the Chicago audience got the better of the switch. This new Salonen piece is astounding, the work of a mature composer and a great virtuoso on the violin. Why wasn’t this being recorded? (The performance will be broadcast tomorrow night, Saturday the 11th, at 8:00 p.m. PDT on KUSC.)
First of all, the violin part sounds almost unplayable, as implied by the WSJ article. How did she hit so many notes without any sounding wrong? How did she have such drive and energy to come to the orchestra like a storm, lifting them up and moving them along and capturing their music in her environment? Second, the orchestral parts show Salonen as an assured master of melody and color; his understanding of the colors of Stravinsky and Ravel as a conductor come across as a composer. In his pre-concert talk with Steven Stucky, Salonen said that he composed thinking of the Philharmonic musicians who would be playing the parts; he knew how they would do, how they would sound. Third, and most important of all, Salonen as composer has something to say, not merely the techniques with which to say it.
The work is in four movements, lasting just over a half hour. But rather than reading my words, read Salonen’s comments on the work, here.
The work was surrounded by Ligeti’s “Clocks and Clouds” and the Beethoven Fifth. Salonen, composer-conductor, had something new to say about the Fifth, something he didn’t quite say in his Beethoven cycle three years ago. This was not a performance by Karajan or Bernstein, to name just two. It seemed as if Salonen was working to make us feel how new and how radical Beethoven’s work was. Parts seemed to race, parts seemed to contemplate; the whole was very persuasive.
- A note for composers in Southern California
Two students at USC Thornton have formed a group named “What’s Next?”, and with the cooperation and assistance of advisors at USC/Thornton are scheduling a series of three concerts of new music this June (June 11, June 16, and June 19). They are soliciting composers across SoCal to submit “adventurous” new works, no longer than 20 minutes long, for soloist or chamber group. They already know they will be playing works by Don Crockett, Stephen Hartke, Erica Muhl, and Paul Chihara. If you go to their web site, here, you’ll find much more information, including information for composers and for musicians with abilities to participate in the performances. If, like me, you’re without either talent, you’ll also find the initial information about location and starting time of this interesting new start-up. Oh, yes, you’ll also find their names, but do check out What’s Next?
Photo credit: J. Henry Fair