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News - Esa-Pekka Salonen's new Cello Concerto

Monday, February 27, 2017
'A true virtuoso can also capture the beauty and expression in the quietest moments, to fill near-stasis with life through a musician’s imagination and ability to communicate. In my other life as a performer I witness that almost every day: how musicians can create meaning from a single note. The composer-me is humbled by it, but also deeply grateful. After all, all those symbols on paper mean nothing until somebody gives them life.' 

Esa-Pekka Salonen



The brand new Cello Concerto by Esa-Pekka Salonen was co-commissioned for Yo-Yo Ma by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Barbican Centre, and Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. The new work premieres in Chicago on March 9-11, with Salonen conducting. The following week, Yo-Yo Ma and the concerto travel to the New York Philharmonic, conducted by their Music Director, Alan Gilbert. The New York Philharmonic will also give the European Premiere at the Barbican Centre in London, before performing it at the new Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg.






Salonen and Ma are long-time friends and collaborators, having worked together on many projects in the 25 years since Salonen first led Ma, in a performance at the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1992. They initially discussed the possibility of Salonen writing a concerto for Ma over a couple of martinis after a performance at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Salonen says, 'It has been a very great pleasure and honour to write a concerto for one of the most unique life-givers and communicators of our time, Yo-Yo Ma. It's been inspiring to know that his technique knows no limits. Perhaps more importantly: nor does his imagination.'

Ma also expressed excitement about the chance to work on and discuss the piece with Salonen as it developed. 'I am so looking forward to hearing the work, but also to hearing him talk about it as we go along,' he said. 'Esa-Pekka Salonen is a truly compelling composer,' Alan Gilbert, who will lead the piece in New York and then on tour with the New York Philharmonic, said. 'Yo-Yo Ma is a close musical colleague, and it’s always a privilege to be onstage with this giant.'

The approximately 30-minute concerto includes scoring for electronics. In Salonen's words, it begins with 'a simple thought emerging out of a complex landscape. Almost like consciousness developing from clouds of dust.' The main movement is the second with 'slow cello arches...looped to create harmony from single lines.' This is followed by the third movement of music that is 'often dance-like; sometimes gesticulating wildly, perhaps from the sheer joy of no longer having to do with clouds and processes. Finally the kinetic energy burns itself out gently, the rapid movement slows down and the cello line climbs slowly up to a stratospherically high b-flat, two centimetres to the left from the highest note of the piano.'


In his second of three seasons as The Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic, Salonen led Circle Map, a programme celebrating the music of Kaija Saariaho presented by Park Avenue Armory in October 2016; the orchestra will give the New York Premiere of his Wing on Wing, with sopranos Anu and Piia Komsi, in May 2017; he will conduct the US Premiere of Tansy Davies’s new work for four horns with Richard Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra in April 2017, and he will continue with his advisory role on CONTACT!, the Philharmonic’s new-music series.

Cello Concerto performances

Symphony Center, Chicago
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello

David Geffen Hall, New York
New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello

Barbican Centre, London
New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello

Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg
New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert, conductor
Yo-Yo Ma, cello


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