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Sunday, March 06, 2005
Esa-Pekka Salonen: Wing on Wing
Esa-Pekka Salonen has of late been stepping out of his own shadow of world-class conductor of the LA Philharmonic and guest conductor of orchestras around the world and emerging as Esa-Pekka Salonen, the composer. By his account, Salonen’s conducting came as a by- product of his composing – a tool with which to conduct his own works (a means to better their chances of performance) – but he excelled at conducting and it gradually subsumed his time to compose and became, up until recently, the skill most people have associated with his name. This is a paradigm that is in the process of changing. Salonen has recorded two volumes of orchestral works in the last three years or so, one for Sony and one for Deutsche Grammophon. The works therein present a knowledge, maturity and creativity of orchestration and composition that is capturing the attention and imagination of a growing audience.

This latest collection of Salonen’s work is entitled "Wing On Wing and features three formidable, extended orchestral pieces; "Foreign Bodies", "Wing on Wing" and "Insomnia," recorded by the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra with Salonen conducting. The CD opens with “Foreign Bodies” a work in three segments. In the first segment, “Body Language”, a powerful motive, one that could burst through concrete, is introduced in the opening measures. Its force mellows into springy descending sequences. Kinetic energy and the movement of bodies join; here and there, a tip of the hat to Stravinsky and even a fleeting gesture of Petrouchka. But Salonen’s syncopation and swing, even sensibilities of rock and fusion are of an evolved extended language. He uses the orchestral palate in vast depth, dynamics and detail. Body Language amazingly dissolves and resolves into the second part, “Language”, a shimmering and pulsating adagio current. A dream of images and imagination. The final part is “Dance”.

"Wing on Wing," the title track written in 2004 as a homage to the new Walt Disney concert hall home now to the LA Philharmonic and Salonen and its architect, Frank O. Gehry, opens with a beautiful post-impressionist chord sequence; a primordial undulation in which two Siren voices, sopranos Anu and Piia Kommsi, emerge with rapturous melody and harmony. The piece is a journey back in time; "...go to the beginning," a voice says. There are some incredibly alluring and sensual passages in this piece. The only complaint I have with the whole of the CD comes at the expense of (the end of) Wing on Wing. It starts and evolves so organically, weaving together voice and orchestral timbres, then builds and evolves and captures us but it’s unrelenting percussion and brass crescendos at the end are a questionable reward for our attentiveness for over 25 minutes. I felt that to give us a little less would have gotten the point across just as well, possibly better. It’s a small complaint though for what is overall a beautiful journey.

I don’t want to say too much about Insomnia. It is yours to experience. I have listened to it several times and each time it’s a new revelation.

Esa-Pekka Salonen is a composer forging an exciting language and direction, accessible to all listeners. It’s nice to hear contemporary orchestral music with so much color, depth and texture. But it’s also the compositional focus joined with his performance skills that gives this music its verve and makes it truly, uniquely Salonen’s.

Also See Jerry Zinzer’s review of Esa-Pekka Salonen "Last Night in LA" Saturday, February 26, 2005


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