ESA-PEKKA SALONEN: ‘Out of Nowhere’ – Violin Concerto; Nyx – Leila Josefewicz, violin/Finnish Radio Sym./Esa-Pekka Salonen – DGG 0289 479 0628 5, 48:16 *****:
Esa-Pekka Salonen has more than asserted and proven himself as one of the great composer-conductors of the last fifty years. I have had the great fortune to see him conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic live on several occasions and his interpretations, his clarity and his stage presence is consistently marvelous.
However, his work as a composer is a little less known – particularly to those who do not pay that much attention to modern music. Salonen’s music is always interesting and beautifully orchestrated. Many people may have heard his buoyant and very “west coast” LA Variations with his amazing LA Phil. For those who do not know his music, though, this disc is a game changer and the Violin Concerto from 2009 is the main reason.
Salonen has always been a highly creative and eclectic writer who draws upon many resources, cultural, stylistic and harmonic, for his inspirations. In fact, the title of this disc, Out of Nowhere, is taken from those words that Salonen and Leila Josefewicz penciled in over the first movement. It is a technically demanding but highly energetic work that spans four movements that bear some highly evocative titles: Mirage, Pulse I, Pulse II and Adieu.
The language is utterly dynamic from the opening frenetic solo line over some dark, very “mirage”-like orchestral brewings to the beautiful and vast closing. Salonen had commented in his own notes on the Concerto that he views the work as a “summary of (his) experiences as a musician and a human being at the watershed age of 50”. The work won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for new music and adds to the growing list of amazing new works written for virtuoso performers by such composers as John Adams, Jennifer Higdon, Kaija Saariaho, Thomas Ades and Philip Glass (to name but a few of my favorites, which now includes the Salonen). Leila Josefewicz’s performance is incredible and if Salonen at age 50 is entering a new phase or dedication to his craft as a composer, I cannot wait for more!
Nyx for orchestra is another terrific reason to become familiar with this composer’s recent output. The work is named after the Greek goddess of the night (and, hence, the etymology). In the mythology, Nyx (sometimes “Nox”) unites with Erebus and creates day. This eighteen-minute work is in some ways a version of theme and variations but, as the composer explains, the primary themes and motives that serve as the source material remain essentially steady throughout as the “environment” around them changes. There are extremes of dynamic, of emotion and of rhythmic propulsion. This is a complex, but beautiful, orchestral picture that reminded in all its impact of the composer’s earlier Foreign Bodies.
Esa-Pekka Salonen is a brilliant composer-conductor who leads the world-class Finnish Radio Symphony in truly captivating performances. As for Leila Josefewicz, she is once again brilliant! Violinists would love this work and I also recommend her similarly astonishing recording of the Ades Concerto. I have been a huge fan of Salonen’s for many years and recommend this recording without hesitation!
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