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Esa-Pekka Salonen

Publisher: Chester Music

Wing on Wing (2004)
a gift to the LA Philharmonic Orchestra
Chester Music Ltd
Soloists and Orchestra
Year Composed
27 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
2 sopranos
Programme Note
Esa-Pekka Salonen Wing on Wing (2004)
'In sailing terminology, when a sailboat opens both the foresail and the main sail to a 180-degree angle to produce the maximum amount of sail area, the beautiful sculptural constellation is called "wing on wing" .'
Frank O. Gehry uses that as a metaphor for the view of Walt Disney Concert Hall from the corner of Grand Avenue and First Street.

My composition Wing on Wing is, of course, not an attempt to translate architecture into music, which would be an impossible task anyway. Nor is it a musical portrait of Frank Gehry, but rather an homage to an extraordinary building by an extraordinary man. At the same time it celebrates the efforts of every man and woman whose dedication, skill, and faith made a fantastic vision into reality.

Wing on Wing uses metaphors of water and wind. I also decided to use the weird sound of a fish from the local waters of Southern California, the Plainfin Midshipman, as an instrument. (A school of fish uses this sound probably as a means of staying in formation.) Fish, of course, was FOG’s (Frank Gehry) unexpected move in the postmodern game of architecture. The image is beautiful, perfect, and yet completely surprising in the context of intellectual discourse.

We hear Frank’s sampled (and modified) voice here and there. Sometimes we can discern words, key words in his work and life. Sometimes words become musical sounds, and they lose their intelligibility wholly or partially.

There are some other unusual colors in the score: two coloratura sopranos join the orchestra sometimes as soloists, sometimes as instruments among others. In the beginning of the piece I pair them with the lowest-sounding woodwind instruments, the contrabassoon and the contrabass clarinet, and create a new kind of hybrid instrument, a sci-fi fantasy of a union between humans and machines.

I decided to disperse some of the sounds in the auditorium. The sopranos, some percussion, and the sampled sounds travel to different parts of the hall.

The form of Wing on Wing can be described in 10 sections:

1) Introduction. A chorale and a song of the two sopranos alternate, always in slightly different guises. Faster music starts to grow underneath, which leads to
2) Nervous figurations in the strings and woodwinds. The movement congeals into triplets and develops into a metaphor of a strong wind. A storm develops, dissolves, and disappears into nothingness.
3) A new beginning. Another gust of wind develops, but soon calms down to a tranquil section, where the woodwinds play melodies originally introduced by the sopranos. The layering of these melodies becomes very dense. The strings recede, and the woodwinds unite gradually into a chorale.
4) The sopranos return, now out in the hall. An explosion of glittering, metallic sounds. Again the music calms down, this time to a misterioso section with tremolos in the strings and fragmentary phrases in the oboes and the sopranos.
5) Plainfin Midshipman enters. These fish sing an E natural.
6) Fast movement again. Sandpaper blocks and strings spin ornaments, that develop into a….
7) ...Scherzando section. The sopranos are back, now in the normal solo position on stage. Light virtuoso textures, which gradually become another gust of wind (a memory of an earlier moment).
8) The wind solidifies into a triplet pulse. A kind of dance develops.
9) The dance doubles its speed. Joy and energy. Culmination in two huge chords. The music slows down into an
10) Epilogue. At the very end we hear Frank Gehry, the Midshipman, and the sopranos for a last time.

Wing on Wing is dedicated to Frank Gehry, Yasuhiso Toyota, and Deborah Borda.

Esa-Pekka Salonen
April 24, 2004

  • Ensemble
    Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Anu Komsi and Piia Komsi (sopranos)
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
    Deutsche Grammophon:
The shiny sail-like configuration of architect Frank Gehry's beautiful Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA was the inspiration behind Salonen's Wing on Wing. I can see why Salonen chose to include it as an adjunct to his first Sibelius cycle. Metaphors of water and wind reconcile a Californian extravagance to a Scandinavian austerity- and as the good ship Disney sets sail, the animation of texture and ideas is appropriately fanciful. The exceptionally wide sonic range is exemplified by the human and mechanical elements flanking the orchestra: a pair of coloratura sopranos (Anu Komsi and Cyndia Sieden), accompanied by the lowest-sounding wood-winds, the contrabassoon and contrabass clarinet, the latter sinking so low as to be almost a vibration. The sopranos' wordless vocalises serve as siren songs to our imagination, with he electronic sampling of a Californian fish- the plainfin midshipman- lending suspician that they might even be little mermaids in disguise. Except that it's not just their vocal chords but their feet that are exercised here as Salonen consigns them to various parts of the hall...
Edward Seckerson, The Independent,05/11/2008
Each concert also contains a contemporary work. In the first it was Salonen's own Wing on Wing, an exuberant half-hour that sent two game sopranos (Anu Komsi and Cyndia Sieden) scurrying round the hall to deliver piccolo-high coloratura outbursts. It also incorporated tapes of honking Californian fish and mangled speech, hit us from all directions with jangly percussion bursts, and propelled a vast orchestra (driven by Salonen's trademark turbo-charged bass lines) on a sonic journey that was sometimes sci-fi soundtrack and sometimes frantically syncopated sance...It was instantly graspable, amiably eccentric and entertaining. an apt tribute, in other words, to the spectacular building that inspired it: Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Richard Morrison, The Times,05/11/2007
Salonen's own Wing on Wing, a tribute to Frank Gehry's iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA, reflects that creator's architectural principles in a number of ways. The title refers (in nautical terms) to the 180-degree angle exposing maximum sail area, and by analogy the surfaces of the edifice. The grain of material is built up with references to Salonen's Finnish heritage, to Stravinsky and to West Coast Minimalism. A pair of stunning coloratura spranos (Anu Komsi and Cyndia Sieden) soared above these energetic, ingratiating textures, soemtiems from the stage, sometimes from high in the auditorium. It's a flashy, super-charged piece that...doubtless goes down well in California.
Barry Millington, The Evening Standard,02/11/2007
Salonen’s recent orchestral scores have an assertive, luminous tonal confidence that seems to state ‘problem solved’ – even if it does so in kaleidoscopically rich colours. His Wing on Wing (2004), an orchestral fantasy which received its UK premiere at the hands of Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the BBC Symphony Orchestra in the Barbican on 12 May, is a tribute to the architect Frank Gehry. […] The orchestral writing, of course, is utterly confident and polished, as you’d expect from a composer who is also one of the most technically assured of today’s conductors.
Martin Anderson, Tempo,06/10/2006
It might almost be possible to say about the second concert by the Los Angeles Phil-harmonic, even more than about the preceding one, that that the orchestra together with the youthfully charismatic chief conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen conquered the hearts of the (much-traveled) Cologne music-lovers by storm. This is because “Wing on Wing” by the enthusiastically composing maestro quite essentially deals with tur-bulent air movement. Without the piece, which lasts about half an hour, trying to con-jure up any real images, its starting-off point is motivated by one. In English sailor’s language “wing on wing” means the majestic setting of sales, and this process was reflected in the architecture of the Walt Disney concert Hall in Los Angeles, opened in 2003. It was obvious that this truly imposing building deserved a musical homage, and it came, logically enough, from its musical landlord, Esa-Pekka Salonen. The extensive space of the concert hall prompted him, among other things, to order his two sopranos together with two percussionists to the uppermost rear seats for cer-tain passages; in the Cologne Philharmonie this was the upper circle. At the beginning of the work such an equally archaic move was suitable as the final Cologne work, Igor Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring”. “Wing”, however, does not start in the transparent form of chamber music but with a laborious orchestration as if it were trying to reflect the original magma state of the Earth. Then came a blissful middle section à la Claude Debussy (whose “Fantasia for piano and orchestra” was the second piece in the con-cert), and finally a stormy finale including a wind-machine, reminiscent of Strauss’ “Quixote”. Salonen, however, widened his musical world panorama picturesquely with singing voices.
Christoph Zimmermann, General-Anzeiger,05/03/2005
Two Finnish sisters, Anu and Piia Komsi, were sent out by Esa-Pekka Salonen into the concert hall of the Cologne Philharmonie in his composition “Wing on Wing” in order to make time and space audible. The turquoise color of their costumes hit the eye like the color of water above the atolls off the coasts of southern California, where the bullhead fish live. This Finnish composer had also built their scurrilous sounds into his work, which was now the first piece in this second concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Salonen leads the words into wordless melodies and then lets them fill like sails, clear Nordic voices. They are joined by the croaking of the deep-voice double-bassoon and double-bass clarinet, placed right at the front, to form the foundations for a piece of music that Salonen composed as homage to the new Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles last year. The orchestration is as bombastic as the building, and on top of that there was also the recorded voice of the architect, Frank O. Gehry. The composer pursues a clever dramatic line and narrates his story in an effectively direct kind of music. If it sometimes sounded like an epic movie or, when the bells tinkled from the sky, like Christmas, this is indisputably a suitable part of this colossal work.
Olaf Weiden, Kölnische Rundschau,05/03/2005
There was also a fulminous performance of Salonen’s own work, Wing on Wing. The very start bore the best testimony to the acoustic imagination of this conductor-composer, when two sopranos (Anu and Piia Komsi) floated in ethereal heights above the lowest woodwinds, thus tearing open a gigantic space. And Salonen indulged in the fullness – there was no trace of asceticism or minimalist reduction. This is how New Music can poke fun of its detractors.
Markus Schwering, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger,05/03/2005
With the concert coming on the heels of a new contract that extends Salonen's music directorship of the Philharmonic until at least 2008, the performance was pure celebration. The sopranos, Hila Plitmann and Cyndia Sieden, began on a note of ecstacy and never left it. The amplification has been tamed and Gehry's intrusions toned down to become more appropriate atmospheric enhancement. The riotous dance at the end...felt a true culmination.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,12/02/2005
'the Finnish musician seems to have freed himself in "Wing" like never before, taking pleasure - sensual pleasure - in the sheer euphony of sound and the sheer excitement of rhythm. It is a most unusual piece, too, but readily accessible and - gasp - also fun.'
Timothy Mangan, The Orange County Register,07/06/2004
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