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Customer Review

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 2012 Grawmeyer Award ......, October 24, 2012
This review is from: Salonen: 'Out Of Nowhere' Violin Concerto/Nyx (Audio CD)
Has the era of violin concerto as a dominating genre finally arrived? Beethoven has 5 piano concertos, but only one violin concerto. Mozart? 27+ versus 5. The piano was a dominating instrument for solo and concerto genres, but that time has long gone. Modern composers seem to prefer violin's flexibility over piano's polyphonic capacity. Evidence? Since 2004, 4 out of 9 winners of the prestigious Grawmeyer Award for Music Composition are for violin concertos (by Unsuk Chin, George Tsontakis, Brett Dean (see also Comment below for details), and Esa-Pekka Salonen), with an additional double concerto for violin and viola (György Kurtág: ...Concertante...). If we look further back, John Adams's violin concerto was also an award winner in 1995. -- How many piano concerto to have won this award? None!

Esa-Pekka Salonen has never been a revolutionary figure. He doesn't set his eyes on pushing the boundaries, in terms of forms, styles etc., despite the composer stating otherwise. (My impression anyway.) Some might complain about his "middle of the road" philosophy, but I don't agree. Salonen, like J.S. Bach, has the ability to absorb all around him and distills the best through his craftsmanship. His compositions are few, but are of uniformly high standard. This violin concerto might just be his best work yet. (I do not claim to have heard all Salonen's works.)

Salonen's style can generally be characterized as post-modern impressionism. He once remarked in an interview that the trend of classical music in the beginning of the 21st century would be closer to Debussy and Ravel than to Schoenberg and Webern. These works betrays the affinity with the impressionism in terms of color, rhythm and texture. (Note however that words are often powerless when it comes to describing music. Do yourself a favor and listen for yourself.)

In terms of performance, there are no better performers for these pieces than the violinist Lelia Josefowicz (for whom this concerto is written) and the composer himself (at the helm). Josefowicz plays the fiendishly difficult violin solo to perfection. One really has to listen to believe, but then again, the technical facility of this younger generation of performers has *on the average* reached a level unheard of previously.

The recorded sound is clear, well-balanced and full-bodied. In the violin concerto, the violin solo is placed up-close front center. One can almost hear the bow hair splashing through the air molecules and landing on the strings. It is not easy to record the full orchestra in the dual-channel stereo recordings, but here the engineers have done a beautiful job. For example, listen to Nyx and marvel at Salonen's skillful orchestration and recording engineers' excellent work: All contrapuntal lines can be easily picked up even when the full orchestra is employed. (My guess is that multi-miking was used and balancing achieved in the studio.)

Highest recommendation.

The following are composer's notes. Personal reference only! (For more details, please visit composer's own website, where you can download pp.1-17 of the full score of the 2009 Violin Concerto.)

Violin Concerto (2009)
Note by Esa-Pekka Salonen

I wrote my Violin Concerto between June 2008 and March 2009. Nine months, the length of human gestation, a beautiful coincidence. I decided to cover as wide a range of expression as I could imagine over the four movements of the Concerto: from the virtuosic and flashy to the aggressive and brutal, from the meditative and static to the nostalgic and autumnal. Leila Josefowicz turned out to be a fantastic partner in this process. She knows no limits, she knows no fear, and she was constantly encouraging me to go to places I was not sure I would dare to go. As a result of that process, this Concerto is as much a portrait of her as it is my more private narrative, a kind of summary of my experiences as a musician and a human being at the watershed age of 50.

Movement I. Mirage
The violin starts alone, as if the music had been going on for some time already. Very light bell-like sounds comment on the virtuosic line here and there. Suddenly we zoom in to maximum magnification: the open strings of the violin continue their resonance, but amplified; the light playfulness has been replaced by an extreme close-up of the strings, now played by the cellos and basses; the sound is dark and resonant.

Zoom out again, and back in after a while. The third close-up leads into a recitative. Solo violin is playing an embellished melodic line that leads into some impossibly fast music. I zoom out once again at the very end, this time straight up in the air. The violin follows.

Finally all movement stops on the note D, which leads to...

Movement II: Pulse I
All is quiet, static. I imagined a room, silent: all you can hear is the heartbeat of the person next to you in bed, sound asleep. You cannot sleep, but there is no angst, just some gentle, diffuse thoughts on your mind. Finally the first rays of the sun can be seen through the curtains, here represented by the flutes.

Movement III: Pulse II
The pulse is no longer a heartbeat. This music is bizarre and urban, heavily leaning towards popular culture with traces of (synthetic) folk music. The violin is pushed to its very limits physically. Something very Californian in all this. Hooray for freedom of expression. And thank you, guys!

Movement IV: Adieu
This is not a specific farewell to anything in particular. It is more related to the very basic process of nature, of something coming to an end and something new being born out of the old. Of course this music has a strong element of nostalgia, and some of the short outbursts of the full orchestra are almost violent, but I tried to illuminate the harmony from within. Not with big gestures, but with

When I had written the very last chord of the piece I felt confused: why does the last chord - and only that - sound completely different from all other harmony of the piece? As if it belonged to a different composition.

Now I believe I have the answer. That chord is a beginning of something new.

Nyx (2010)
Note by Esa-Pekka Salonen

Nyx is my return to the genre of pure orchestral music since Helix (2005). It employs a large orchestra, and has exposed concertante parts for solo clarinet and the horn section.

Rather than utilizing the principle of continuous variation of material, as is the case mostly in my recent music, Nyx behaves rather differently. Its themes and ideas essentially keep their properties throughout the piece while the environment surrounding them keeps changing constantly. Mere whispers grow into roar; an intimate line of the solo clarinet becomes a slowly breathing broad melody of tutti strings at the end of the 18-minute arch of Nyx.

I set myself a particular challenge when starting the composition process, something I hadn't done earlier: to write complex counterpoint for almost one hundred musicians playing tutti at full throttle without losing clarity of the different layers and lines; something that Strauss and Mahler so perfectly mastered. Not an easy task, but a fascinating one. I leave it to the listener to judge how well I succeeded.

Nyx is a shadowy figure in Greek mythology. At the very beginning of everything there's a big mass of dark stuff called Chaos, out of which comes Gaia or Ge, the Earth, who gives birth (spontaneously!) to Uranus, the starry heaven, and Pontus, the sea. Nyx (also sometimes known as Nox) is supposed to have been another child of Gaia, along with Erebus. The union of Nyx and Erebus produces Day.

Another version says that Cronos (as Time) was there from the beginning. Chaos came from Time. Nyx was present as a sort of membrane surrounding Chaos, which had Phanes (Light) at its centre. The union of Nyx with Phanes produced Heaven & Earth.

She is an extremely nebulous figure altogether; we have no sense of her character or personality. It is this very quality that has long fascinated me and made me decide to name my new orchestral piece after her.

I'm not trying to describe this mythical goddess in any precise way musically. However, the almost constant flickering and rapid changing of textures and moods as well as a certain elusive character of many musical gestures may well be related to the subject.

I have always enjoyed the unrivalled dynamic range of a large symphony orchestra, but Nyx seems to take a somewhat new direction from my earlier orchestral music: there are many very delicate and light textures, chiaroscuro instead of details bathing in clear direct sunlight. I guess this is symptomatic of growing older as we realize there are no simple truths, no pure blacks and whites but an endless variety of half shades.

Nyx was commissioned by Radio France, the Barbican Centre, Atlanta Symphony, Carnegie Hall and the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE. It had its first performance in Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, in February 2011 in the final concert of the Festival Présences. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France was conducted by the composer.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 24, 2012 9:05:50 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 13, 2014 10:33:10 PM PDT
Y.P. says:
Edit: Dean's concerto has now been released in CD and you can find it at Dean: Lost Art of Letter Writing, Etc..

Brett Dean's Violin Concerto "The Lost Art of Letter Writing" has unfortunately not been commercially recorded yet, but the complete performance can be found at

It is apparently uploaded by the violinist Sophie Rowell.

Note by Brett Dean

Not only is letter writing becoming a lost art, but one could argue that handwriting itself is an endangered skill. Aspects of my daughters' education, in particular its heavy reliance on electronic stimuli, have reinforced my view that we are genuinely losing touch with the tactile element of written communication. A recent article in an Australian newspaper points out that the proportion of personal letters amongst the total number of sent articles handled by the national postal authority, Australia Post, has declined from 50% in 1960 to 13% nowadays. Sure, we stay in touch arguably more than ever, via telephone, email and messaging, but that too has undoubtedly changed the nature of communicating.

These were then the initiating thoughts behind my Violin Concerto, `The Lost Art of Letter Writing', co-commissioned by the Cologne Philharmonie and the Stockholm Philharmonic for the esteemed soloist Frank Peter Zimmermann, to whom the work is dedicated with my great admiration. Each movement is prefaced by an excerpt from a 19th Century letter of one kind or another, ranging from private love-letter to public manifesto. Each title refers to the place and year the letter was written. The violin plays the alternate roles of both an author and a recipient of letters, but perhaps more importantly, the solo part conjures something of the mood of each of the different letters.

[0:09] The first movement "Hamburg, 1854" refers to one of classical music's great secret romances, that between Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann. The music itself relates to aspects of Brahms's own works: the unsettled, 32nd note oscillation in the opening bars, for example, comes from a moment in the slow movement of his Fourth Symphony - an orchestral texture that has always particularly intrigued me. This forms an undulating background upon which the violinist enters the scene as letter writing protagonist, spinning an impassioned and involved missive to an unrequited love. Part of Brahms' early "Variations on a Theme of Schumann" also weaves its way into the movement.

[13:57] The second movement, "The Hague, 1882", is a broad, prayer-like slow movement, and takes its cue from a line from a letter of Vincent van Gogh, reflecting upon the eternal beauty of nature as being a constant in his otherwise troubled and notoriously unstable life.

[23:15] The third movement, "Vienna, 1886", is a brief intermezzo, a fleshing out of a movement from my recent song cycle entitled Wolf-Lieder. It is a setting of an excerpt from one of Hugo Wolf's letters to a close personal friend, again a frank outpouring from a life of affliction.

[27:15] The final movement finds its inspiration in the famous "Jerilderie Letter" of the Australian bushranger, Ned Kelly. Kelly wrote this letter in the small rural town of Jerilderie in 1879 as a public manifesto in order to articulate his pleas of innocence and desire for justice for both his family and other poor Irish settlers in the North-East of Victoria in the days of colonial Australia. Here the music takes on the character of a desperate `moto perpetuo', hurtling through passages of considerable virtuosity, but always reflecting the sense of impending catastrophe inherent in Kelly's famous document.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 25, 2012 10:34:39 AM PST
RBSProds says:
Great review, Y.P., thanks very much!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 25, 2012 11:40:52 AM PST
Y.P. says:
Thanks for the kind words!

Posted on Jan 30, 2013 8:02:31 AM PST
Aceto says:
YP I missed this review. It is perhaps your best effort yet. I am purchasing immediately and am filing your review as a companion for my listening.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2013 11:41:20 AM PST
Y.P. says:
Aceto, Many thanks for the kind words. They are greatly appreciated. :)

In fact, I more or less wrote this note for myself, as my own "listening companion". Glad that it might prove useful to you too!

Posted on Aug 3, 2014 2:07:50 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 3, 2014 2:27:42 PM PDT
Octave says:
Another great review, thanks for it. I will be checking this out soon.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 3, 2014 2:12:36 PM PDT
Y.P. says:
Octave, Thanks for the kind words!
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