Author Topic: Salonen's Helix  (Read 15595 times)

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Offline Mirror Image

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Salonen's Helix
« on: May 26, 2011, 12:51:47 PM »


I figured I would start a thread about Salonen the composer. The title of the this thread is Helix and it's actually the title of a very cool composition by Salonen. You can go to YouTube and see Gergiev conduct this work. Anyway, a little background on Salonen is in order first:

Esa-Pekka Salonen emerged as one of the most exciting and fast-rising major conductors of the last two decades of the twentieth century. He entered the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki 1973, studying horn with Holgar Fransman. Having graduated in 1977, Salonen remained to take composition with Einojuhani Rautavaara and conducting with Jorma Panula. He also studied composition with Franco Donatoni in Siena, attended the summer course at Darmstadt, and, from 1980 to 1981, studied with Niccolò Castiglioni.

Although he is primarily known as a conductor, Salonen views composition as his main career. His first large-scale orchestral work was the Concerto for saxophone & orchestra, "...Auf den esten Blick und ohne zu wissen" (1980-1981), based on Kafka's novel The Trial. His second orchestral work, Giro, dates from 1981.The following year, he composed Floof (revised in 1990), a bright work for soprano and ensemble based on texts by the Polish science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem. This work won the UNESCO Rostrum Prize in 1992. During the 1980s, Salonen composed tape music and music with electronics and instruments combined. Works composed during this period include Baalal, a radiophonic piece, and Yta (Surface), a series of experimental compositions. Although Salonen's burgeoning conducting career somewhat slowed down his composition output, he continued developing as a composer. His 1996 orchestral piece, L.A. Variations, received its triumphant premiere at the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1997. The following year, he wrote Gambit, an orchestral work dedicated to Magnus Lindberg. In 1999, he completed Five Images after Sappho, a song cycle for soprano and small ensemble. Salonen's music employs up-to-date compositional techniques within a central tonality. Other significant works include Wing on Wing for orchestra and two sopranos (2004) and a Piano Concerto (2007) written for Yefim Bronfman.

Salonen started appearing as a horn soloist and guest conductor beginning in 1982. His conducting career took off in 1983, following his sensational London debut with the Philharmonia. Salonen made his American debut conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1984. He received a record contract with CBS Masterworks (now Sony Classical), as well as the position of principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia (1985-1994).

One of his early projects with Sony was a recording of Messiaen's Turangalila and Lutoslawski's Symphony No. 3, the latter a world premiere recording that won a Gramophone Award for Best Contemporary Record in 1985. He took a second award in 1989 with the Sibelius and Nielsen violin concertos, featuring Cho-Liang Lin as soloist, and won further awards with the complete Stravinsky works for piano and orchestra, with Paul Crossley as soloist.

As a result of his highly successful performances with the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in 1989, Salonen was invited to become the orchestra's music director. He assumed that post in 1992, becoming the orchestra's youngest music director, and a successor to such luminaries as Zubin Mehta and Carlo Maria Giulini. Salonen has led the L.A. Philharmonic on major tours, also making a series of highly acclaimed recordings.

Salonen is known especially for his twentieth century music performances, though he is also praised for his interpretations of Haydn, Mahler, and Beethoven. In addition to established modern composers such as Bartók, Messiaen, Stravinsky, and Hindemith, he also frequently performs more recent masters such as Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Lindberg, Saariaho, and Corigliano, whose concerto from the film The Red Violin he recorded with violinist Joshua Bell.

[Article taken from All Music Guide]

Hopefully, this will start some conversation about his music.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2011, 12:54:49 PM by Mirror Image »
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2011, 01:29:58 PM »
As many Modern fans as we have here, no Salonen fans? ??? What the hell is wrong with you people? :P
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2011, 02:57:01 PM »
Well hopefully this thread will get some replies soon, has anyone actually heard a Salonen work?

Here's Gergiev conducting the work Helix:

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/JpRYuELSuv4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/JpRYuELSuv4</a>

I love the energy and excitement of this piece.
« Last Edit: July 18, 2011, 09:44:02 AM by Mirror Image »
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2011, 03:24:53 PM »
I just watched Salonen's Violin Concerto with Leila Josefowicz on violin and I was very impressed. The audio and video quality were terrible, of course, but I could tell this is a very interesting piece of music that hopefully will be recorded soon.
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2011, 03:52:25 PM »
I am a great fan of Salonen's music. I think that he is one of the most effective orchestral music writers around. It seems he is able to coax anything from an orchestra and make it sound nice, no matter what kind of textbook dissonance it has in it. His biggest weakness, however, is piano writing. It is musically very good music, but it is impossible to play! I studied his work Dichotomie once, with the intention of someday playing it, but I gave up after a few hours of fighting with it. I'm not a great pianist or anything, but I've met other pianists (some very good ones) who had the same experience. I also looked at his piano concerto with a similar result. My hat goes off to Yefim Bronfman, Per Tengstrand, and Gloria Cheng that much more, for them being three of the bravest pianists for playing such nonnegotiable music.
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #5 on: May 26, 2011, 03:59:06 PM »
I am a great fan of Salonen's music. I think that he is one of the most effective orchestral music writers around. It seems he is able to coax anything from an orchestra and make it sound nice, no matter what kind of textbook dissonance it has in it. His biggest weakness, however, is piano writing. It is musically very good music, but it is impossible to play! I studied his work Dichotomie once, with the intention of someday playing it, but I gave up after a few hours of fighting with it. I'm not a great pianist or anything, but I've met other pianists (some very good ones) who had the same experience. I also looked at his piano concerto with a similar result. My hat goes off to Yefim Bronfman, Per Tengstrand, and Gloria Cheng that much more, for them being three of the bravest pianists for playing such nonnegotiable music.

Yes, I think he has a great ear for color, texture, and rhythm, which is something I've always admired about composers like Ravel, Bartok, Debussy, Ligeti, etc. I wouldn't know about the technical demands of his Piano Concerto because I haven't heard it yet, but I can only imagine from what you're saying that it's demanding on the soloist. I don't think, however, this could be considered a bad thing. Getting world-class musicians to perform your music is a luxury Salonen has now. The same could be said of many composers of his generation like Magnus Lindberg for example, also a good friend of Salonen's. It's obvious that Salonen isn't after popular appeal with his music, and, this is, again, another luxury he can afford, but I think his music is quite accessible or from what I've heard so far.
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2011, 05:35:03 PM »
I read that Salonen's big compositional breakthrough was his LA Variations. The response from this work brought many questions into Salonen's mind. In fact, as a result of the work's popularity, he took a year off from conducting to focus on composing. I wonder how much free time he gets now? He's the music director of the Philharmonia Orchestra now.
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #7 on: May 26, 2011, 06:55:34 PM »
I wouldn't know about the technical demands of his Piano Concerto because I haven't heard it yet, but I can only imagine from what you're saying that it's demanding on the soloist. I don't think, however, this could be considered a bad thing. Getting world-class musicians to perform your music is a luxury Salonen has now. The same could be said of many composers of his generation like Magnus Lindberg for example, also a good friend of Salonen's. It's obvious that Salonen isn't after popular appeal with his music, and, this is, again, another luxury he can afford, but I think his music is quite accessible or from what I've heard so far.

The biggest, and I mean biggest, difference between Salonen and Lindberg is that Lindberg is a still active world class pianist in his own regard, whereas Salonen used to be a horn player and doesn't do that much anymore, as far as I know. Lindberg's piano music may be extremely difficult, but it is entirely feasible for most well-trained pianists to learn. Salonen's pieces are not only difficult to a high degree, but they are not very idiomatic and they seem to be "tailor made" to the dedicatée. For example, in Dichotomie, there is an entire page of glissandos that span the whole keyboard on both black and white keys (while doing things with the free hand sometimes), something that works well for Bronfman's huge, heavy, and rugged hands. Upon trying out that page, my hands were raw and almost bleeding (no joke!). I talked with Per Tengstrand (a great Swedish pianist who recorded Dichotomie) about this work, and he said that it was by far the most difficult work for him to learn and get up to performance level. Bronfman also was noted in saying that when he asked Salonen for a piano concerto, he begged and pleaded with Salonen that it not be as difficult as Dichotomie. The result, however, was something even more difficult than Dichotomie, according to Bronfman, and there was a page of the work that was declared "completely unplayable". Salonen has revised the work continually since. Only one other pianist has played the work (Juho Pohjonen). Lindberg's piano music, however, gets performances by many other pianists other than the composer himself. The one major redeeming quality that his music has is just that, the musical quality of it. Musicians that I've talked to really want to learn his music, but the sheer difficulty of it prevents his music from getting as many performers as Lindberg, Saariaho, and many of his other colleagues

.
I read that Salonen's big compositional breakthrough was his LA Variations. The response from this work brought many questions into Salonen's mind. In fact, as a result of the work's popularity, he took a year off from conducting to focus on composing. I wonder how much free time he gets now? He's the music director of the Philharmonia Orchestra now.

He has been the musical director of the Philharmonia for a few years now, actually. He directed them concurrently with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for some years, which is why he needed to step down from one of them to get more time. Last I read about him, he is working on an opera at the moment, along with some smaller works. He just premiered an orchestral work called Nyx in France, which I enjoyed (I still like LA Variations most out of his orchestral works). I particularly admire him for being so active with conducting and composing. I am really looking forward to his opera, which is going to be based off of Peter Høeg's novel The Woman and the Ape.
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #8 on: May 26, 2011, 07:12:11 PM »
The biggest, and I mean biggest, difference between Salonen and Lindberg is that Lindberg is a still active world class pianist in his own regard, whereas Salonen used to be a horn player and doesn't do that much anymore, as far as I know. Lindberg's piano music may be extremely difficult, but it is entirely feasible for most well-trained pianists to learn. Salonen's pieces are not only difficult to a high degree, but they are not very idiomatic and they seem to be "tailor made" to the dedicatée. For example, in Dichotomie, there is an entire page of glissandos that span the whole keyboard on both black and white keys (while doing things with the free hand sometimes), something that works well for Bronfman's huge, heavy, and rugged hands. Upon trying out that page, my hands were raw and almost bleeding (no joke!). I talked with Per Tengstrand (a great Swedish pianist who recorded Dichotomie) about this work, and he said that it was by far the most difficult work for him to learn and get up to performance level. Bronfman also was noted in saying that when he asked Salonen for a piano concerto, he begged and pleaded with Salonen that it not be as difficult as Dichotomie. The result, however, was something even more difficult than Dichotomie, according to Bronfman, and there was a page of the work that was declared "completely unplayable". Salonen has revised the work continually since. Only one other pianist has played the work (Juho Pohjonen). Lindberg's piano music, however, gets performances by many other pianists other than the composer himself. The one major redeeming quality that his music has is just that, the musical quality of it. Musicians that I've talked to really want to learn his music, but the sheer difficulty of it prevents his music from getting as many performers as Lindberg, Saariaho, and many of his other colleagues

He has been the musical director of the Philharmonia for a few years now, actually. He directed them concurrently with the Los Angeles Philharmonic for some years, which is why he needed to step down from one of them to get more time. Last I read about him, he is working on an opera at the moment, along with some smaller works. He just premiered an orchestral work called Nyx in France, which I enjoyed (I still like LA Variations most out of his orchestral works). I particularly admire him for being so active with conducting and composing. I am really looking forward to his opera, which is going to be based off of Peter Høeg's novel The Woman and the Ape.

Very interesting post, indeed. I enjoyed reading this. It is interesting that even Salonen's orchestral music is difficult to play for even virtuoso orchestras. I wonder what orchestras during the 1920s/1930s thought about playing Schoenberg's works? I wonder if they had the same difficulty as modern orchestras have had with Salonen's music? Anyway, it's curious thought of mine.

I watched a video for Salonen's Violin Concerto and that work looked incredible difficult to perform. I mean even a world class musician like Leila Josefowicz seemed to be having difficulty with many of the passages. This idea thrills me to death to be honest. I love hearing how difficult works are to perform well. This gives me a greater appreciation for the technical side of the music, which isn't as important as it's emotional content of course, but it adds another element of engagement for a listener like myself.

By the way, I haven't heard much of Lindberg's music, I understand he comes from a different angle than Salonen incorporating more Spectral influences to the music. What do you think about Lindberg and what orchestral work do you think I should hear first?
« Last Edit: May 26, 2011, 07:14:08 PM by Mirror Image »
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #9 on: May 26, 2011, 07:26:50 PM »
I just watched Salonen's Violin Concerto with Leila Josefowicz on violin and I was very impressed. The audio and video quality were terrible, of course, but I could tell this is a very interesting piece of music that hopefully will be recorded soon.
I attended the premiere in LA (drove 400 miles to hear it!)--it was an incredible experience. It's one of his best pieces in my opinion. He did a CD signing afterward, and I asked if there were plans to make a recording. He grinned impishly and said, "We're thinking about it."

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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #10 on: May 26, 2011, 07:31:14 PM »
I attended the premiere in LA (drove 400 miles to hear it!)--it was an incredible experience. It's one of his best pieces in my opinion. He did a CD signing afterward, and I asked if there were plans to make a recording. He grinned impishly and said, "We're thinking about it."

Wow, that's awesome! 400 miles?!?!?!? You really wanted to hear this work didn't you? ;D Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I do hope a recording is in the works.
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #11 on: May 26, 2011, 07:50:25 PM »
Though the biography in the first post here suggests that it was Salonen's conducting career that slowed down his career, he's also said that he stopped composing for a while because he was unhappy with European modernism but unsure how to draw inspiration from John Adams, whose music impressed him upon coming to the US. Salonen is looking for mass appeal in his music. I like his recent pieces, but it frustrates me how in so many interviews he has to trash mid-century modernism and his own early work (which is often quite good).

By the way, I haven't heard much of Lindberg's music, I understand he comes from a different angle than Salonen incorporating more Spectral influences to the music. What do you think about Lindberg and what orchestral work do you think I should hear first?

Lindberg has several stylistic phases: very early serialist pieces (some of which have only recently come to light), brutal modernism from ~1980-88, then a highly energetic style from 1988-2003 in which basically every work develops as a chaconne (the music plays with tonality, but is not really spectral). Finally, there are the recent pieces that are rather mellow and trending towards neo-Romanticism. My favourite Lindberg pieces come from the 1990s when he was working in a highly caffeinated vein, and I would recommend the Sony disc with Cantigas.

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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #12 on: May 26, 2011, 08:32:29 PM »
By the way, I haven't heard much of Lindberg's music, I understand he comes from a different angle than Salonen incorporating more Spectral influences to the music. What do you think about Lindberg and what orchestral work do you think I should hear first?

A great experiment might be to compare the two piano concertos. They were both written in what I think are the primes of the two composer's careers (I think both composers are still in their primes, for the record, even though I think Lindberg's pieces are declining in quality somewhat). Lindberg's piece was written about 20 years ago (for himself to play), but Salonen's about 3-4 years ago (for Yefim Bronfman). Lindberg's is considerably less accessible, but in my opinion, the better work all around. It sounds more difficult, but, like most composers who are pianists, it is very idiomatic and, on paper, it actually looks like a "normal piano piece", if you know what I mean, even though it doesn't sound like any piano concerto I have ever heard. The Lindberg was written at an interesting point in his life, when he was starting to reject the intense modernism seen in his works like KRAFT and Tendenza. You still hear an edge in the piano concerto, though, which has tapered off in all of his works since he wrote the concerto. He modeled the concerto after the Ravel concerto, apparently, and doesn't wish to treat the piano like a percussion instrument. To me, the piano is treated like anything from an average piano to a Hungariam cimbalom to a gong being gradually excited by a soft mallet. Salonen's work, to me, doesn't treat the work like a piano at all, but rather like any other member or the orchestra, or like an entire orchestra unto itself, going against the orchestra proper. This makes the piece a proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. It has a very "pretty" sound to it, all while being extremely difficult for nearly every performer, containing many demanding solos for various instruments, let alone the piano soloist (sounds a lot like John Adams, no?). All that said, I love both works and appreciate them both for different reasons.
« Last Edit: May 26, 2011, 08:39:33 PM by lescamil »
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #13 on: May 27, 2011, 07:59:15 AM »
Though the biography in the first post here suggests that it was Salonen's conducting career that slowed down his career, he's also said that he stopped composing for a while because he was unhappy with European modernism but unsure how to draw inspiration from John Adams, whose music impressed him upon coming to the US. Salonen is looking for mass appeal in his music. I like his recent pieces, but it frustrates me how in so many interviews he has to trash mid-century modernism and his own early work (which is often quite good).

I've read that Salonen admired Adams' work and Adams is my favorite living American composer, so should be interesting.

Lindberg has several stylistic phases: very early serialist pieces (some of which have only recently come to light), brutal modernism from ~1980-88, then a highly energetic style from 1988-2003 in which basically every work develops as a chaconne (the music plays with tonality, but is not really spectral). Finally, there are the recent pieces that are rather mellow and trending towards neo-Romanticism. My favourite Lindberg pieces come from the 1990s when he was working in a highly caffeinated vein, and I would recommend the Sony disc with Cantigas.

Thanks for information regarding Lindberg. I've read a lot about him, but I haven't got into his music yet.
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #14 on: May 27, 2011, 08:03:36 AM »
A great experiment might be to compare the two piano concertos. They were both written in what I think are the primes of the two composer's careers (I think both composers are still in their primes, for the record, even though I think Lindberg's pieces are declining in quality somewhat). Lindberg's piece was written about 20 years ago (for himself to play), but Salonen's about 3-4 years ago (for Yefim Bronfman). Lindberg's is considerably less accessible, but in my opinion, the better work all around. It sounds more difficult, but, like most composers who are pianists, it is very idiomatic and, on paper, it actually looks like a "normal piano piece", if you know what I mean, even though it doesn't sound like any piano concerto I have ever heard. The Lindberg was written at an interesting point in his life, when he was starting to reject the intense modernism seen in his works like KRAFT and Tendenza. You still hear an edge in the piano concerto, though, which has tapered off in all of his works since he wrote the concerto. He modeled the concerto after the Ravel concerto, apparently, and doesn't wish to treat the piano like a percussion instrument. To me, the piano is treated like anything from an average piano to a Hungariam cimbalom to a gong being gradually excited by a soft mallet. Salonen's work, to me, doesn't treat the work like a piano at all, but rather like any other member or the orchestra, or like an entire orchestra unto itself, going against the orchestra proper. This makes the piece a proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing. It has a very "pretty" sound to it, all while being extremely difficult for nearly every performer, containing many demanding solos for various instruments, let alone the piano soloist (sounds a lot like John Adams, no?). All that said, I love both works and appreciate them both for different reasons.

Yes, it will be interesting to hear both works in a side-by-side comparison. Thanks for the information about Lindberg. The Salonen PC sounds extremely taxing on the soloist, but this is a concerto after all and all concertos should have some degree of difficulty to them for the soloist or else why write a concerto?
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #15 on: May 27, 2011, 11:07:27 PM »
Yes, it will be interesting to hear both works in a side-by-side comparison. Thanks for the information about Lindberg. The Salonen PC sounds extremely taxing on the soloist, but this is a concerto after all and all concertos should have some degree of difficulty to them for the soloist or else why write a concerto?

Yes, concertos should have a degree of difficulty to them, but at the same time they should encourage different performers from the dedicatées to attack them. Works that are astronomically difficult generally don't get further performances after the premiere, unless the music makes it really worth it. I guess you can say that about the Salonen concerto. Bronfman has complained about its difficulties in many interviews, but obviously it means something to him as a performer, and, importantly, to the audience.
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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #16 on: May 27, 2011, 11:17:17 PM »
I have three CDs of Salonen's music, along with odd pieces in other compilations. I really love his work, but I have not heard the concerti.

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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #17 on: May 28, 2011, 06:21:58 AM »
Yes, concertos should have a degree of difficulty to them, but at the same time they should encourage different performers from the dedicatées to attack them. Works that are astronomically difficult generally don't get further performances after the premiere, unless the music makes it really worth it. I guess you can say that about the Salonen concerto. Bronfman has complained about its difficulties in many interviews, but obviously it means something to him as a performer, and, importantly, to the audience.

I don't think Salonen will be revising this concerto anytime soon. But I agree, the work must engage the performer or else why would they be playing it?
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #18 on: May 28, 2011, 06:22:48 AM »
I have three CDs of Salonen's music, along with odd pieces in other compilations. I really love his work, but I have not heard the concerti.

The world of music today would be so much poorer without FINLAND!

Excellent springrite! You and I usually share similar musical paths, so I can't wait to hear the music.
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Offline lescamil

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Re: Salonen's Helix
« Reply #19 on: May 28, 2011, 10:07:37 AM »
I have three CDs of Salonen's music, along with odd pieces in other compilations. I really love his work, but I have not heard the concerti.

The world of music today would be so much poorer without FINLAND!

I agree with you. Many Finnish composers have left an indelible mark ever since Sibelius. Salonen and his colleagues should get more recognition than they presently do. That said, please do check out Salonen's concertos. The violin concerto and piano concertos are both excellent works. I could see both of them being around for a while, for both Josefowicz and Bronfman seem very committed to these works.
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