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Esa-Pekka Salonen

Publisher: Chester Music

Violin Concerto (2009)
Commissioned by The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and New York City Ballet
Chester Music Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
30 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Programme Note
Esa-Pekka Salonen Violin Concerto (2009)
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
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magnification: the open strings of the violin continue their resonance, but amplified; the light playfulness has been replaced by an extreme close-up of the strings, now played by the cellos and basses; the sound is dark and resonant.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
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 light.

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.

— Esa-Pekka Salonen

For more information on The Orchestra App, on which this piece is featured, click here

Listening Guide: Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto from Philharmonia Orchestra on Vimeo.

Click here to read an article about Esa-Pekka's "verse" as part of the iPad Air ad campaign

Score preview:

  • Ensemble
    Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Leila Josefowicz
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
    Deutsche Grammophon:
  • 28 MAR 2019
    Göteborgs Konserthus, Göteborg, Sweden
    Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
    Jennifer Koh; Santtu-Matias Rouvali, conductor

    Other Dates:
    29 March - Göteborgs Konserthus, Göteborg, Sweden
  • 28 FEB 2019
    Jones Hall, Houston, TX
    Houston Symphony
    Leila Josefowicz; Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

    Other Dates:
    3,2 March - Jones Hall, Houston, TX
  • 01 FEB 2019
    Symphony Hall, Phoenix, USA
    The Phoenix Symphony
    Tito Munoz, conductor

    Other Dates:
    2 February - Symphony Hall, Phoenix, USA
  • 29 SEP 2018
    Powell Hall, St. Louis, MO
    St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
    Leila Josefowicz, violin; Hannu Lintu, conductor
  • 28 SEP 2018
    Powell Hall, St. Louis, MO
    St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
    Leila Josefowicz, violin; Hannu Lintu, conductor

    Other Dates:
    29 September - Powell Hall, St. Louis, MO
  • 11 MAY 2018
    NFM Wroclaw, Poland
    NFM Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra
    Andrzej Boreyko, conductor
  • 13 APR 2018
    Tampere-talo, Iso sali Tampere, Finland
    tampere Filharmonia
    Lawrence Renes, conductor
  • 08 MAR 2018
    Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, USA
    Nashville Symphony Orchestra
    Jennifer Koh, violin; Giancarlo Guerrero, conductor

    Other Dates:
    9,10 March - Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Nashville, USA
  • 15 FEB 2018
    Miguel Delibes Cultural Center, Valladolid, Spain
    Castilla y León Symphony Orchestra
    Roberto González-Monjas, violin; Andrew Gourlay, conductor

    Other Dates:
    16 February - Miguel Delibes Cultural Center, Valladolid, Spain
  • 11 FEB 2018
    Walt Disney Concert Hall, LA, USA
    LA Philharmonic Orchestra
    Leila Josefowicz, violin; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
  • 26 JAN 2018
    Auditorium Toscanini, Torino, Italy
    Orchestra Sinfonica RAI
    Jonathan Webb, conductor
  • 10 NOV 2017
    Melos-Étos Festival
    Bratislava, Slovakia
    Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra
    Milan Pala, violin; Mario Kosik, conductor
  • 25 OCT 2017
    Palais Garnier, Paris, France
    Paris Opera Ballet
    Akiko Suwanai, violin; Saburo Teshigawara, choreographer

    Other Dates:
    26-28,31 October; 2-4,7,11,12,14,16 November - Palais Garnier, Paris, France
  • 05 OCT 2017
    Gasteig, Munich, Germany
    Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks
    Anton Barakhovsky, violin; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

    Other Dates:
    6,8 October - Gasteig, Munich, Germany
  • 04 OCT 2017
    Babs Asper Theatre, Ottowa, Canada
    Tero Saarinen Company

    Other Dates:
    5 October - Babs Asper Theatre, Ottowa, Canada
    13 October - Williamstown, Massachusetts, US
    18-22 October - The Joyce Theater, New York, US
    27,28 October - Vancouver Playhouse, Canada
  • 10 AUG 2017
    Southbank Centre, London, UK
    Tero Saarinen Company

    Other Dates:
    18-20 January 2018 - Théâtre National de Chaillot, Paris, France
  • 19 NOV 2016
    Christchurch Symphony Orchestra Wigram Airforce Museum, Christchurch, New Zealand
    Christchurch Symphony Orchestra
    Eoin Andersen; Benjamin Northey, conductor
  • 18 NOV 2016
    Taft Theater, Cincinnati, OH
    Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
    Jennifer Koh; Louis Langrée, conductor

    Other Dates:
    19 November - Taft Theater, Cincinnati, OH
  • 28 OCT 2016
    Copenhagen, Denmark
    Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra
    Kirstine Schneider, violin
  • 29 SEP 2016
    Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik, Iceland
    Iceland Symphony Orchestra
    Akiko Suwanai, violin; Daniel Raiskin, conductor
  • 30 JUN 2016
    Lafayette, CO, United States
    Colorado Music Festival
    Jennifer Koh, violin; Jean Marie Zeitouni, conductor
  • 02 JUN 2016
    Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington D.C.
    National Symphony Orchestra
    Leila Josefowicz, violin; Christoph Eschenbach, conductor

    Other Dates:
    3,4 June - Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington D.C.
  • 03 DEC 2015
    Oslo Concert Hall, Norway
    Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
    Julia Fischer, violin; Thomas Søndergaard, conductor
  • 19 MAR 2015
    Morphed - choreography by Tero Saarinen
    Mainz, Germany
    Tero Saarinen Company

    Other Dates:
    21 March - Linz, Austria
    31 March - Hannover, Germany
    5 May - St. Étienne, France
    20-23 May - Helsinki, Finland
  • 30 JAN 2015
    Creative Chair
    Tonhalle, Zurich, Switzerland
    Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra
    Leila Josefowicz (violin); Esa Pekka Salonen, conductor

    Other Dates:
    31 January; 1 February - Tonhalle, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 11 DEC 2014
    Leipzig, Germany
    MDR Sinfonieorchester
    Julia Fischer; Kristjan Järvi, conductor
  • 06 NOV 2014
    Seattle, WA
    Seattle Symphony
    Jennifer Koh, violin; Ludovic Morlot, conductor

    Other Dates:
    8 November - Seattle, WA
  • 16 AUG 2014
    Helsinki Festival
    Helsinki, Finland
    Finnish National Opera and Tero Saarinen Company
    Akiko Suwanai (violin); Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
  • 18 JUN 2014
    Berlin, Germany
    Philharmonia Orchestra
    Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
  • 28 APR 2014
    Teatro alla Scala, Milan
    Filarmonica della Scala
    Leila Josefowicz, violin

It's an attention-grabbing and thought provoking work...Overall, it's an intriguing opus worth returning to.
Colin Anderson,,27/03/2014
Written in four unconventionally structured movements, the concerto explores, as Mr. Salonen has said, the widest range of expression and instrumental resources of the violin. The first movement, “Mirage,” begins with the violin alone playing what sounds like a near-obsessive modern-day toccata, all streams of winding, perpetual-motion fast notes. Soon, the orchestra responds, jumping in, or perhaps nudging the violin, with fluttering, pungent chords and astringent harmonies. The back and forth becomes fierce, culminating in a hyper-fast outburst for violin, until the instrument takes refuge, in a way, floating eerie lines in soft high notes. I defer to Mr. Salonen’s apt description of the subdued second movement, “Pulse I,” which, he writes, is like a room in which all you hear is the “heartbeat of the person next to you in bed” as your mind is occupied by “gentle, diffuse thoughts.” There is a little restlessness in that heartbeat, though, mostly played by the timpani. And the dreamy solo violin is not entirely comfortable in this pensive mode. Sure enough, the raw “Pulse II” movement changes everything. In a long, final “Adieu,” the violin plays murmuring musings over hazy, cosmic harmonies. It would be hard to imagine a more compelling and accomplished performance, both from Ms. Josefowicz and the inspired Philharmonic.
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times,31/10/2013
the heart of the evening’s first half was Salonen’s own engrossing Violin Concerto, completed in 2009. Like the composer, the piece is a fascinating hybrid, a combination of European modernist rigor and polyglot Californian cool. It has four connected movements of hugely diverse character, loosely knit together by a demanding solo line that embraces traditional virtuoso violin writing while never feeling captive to it. The opening is a sustained sprint for the soloist, the second movement a more languid span with the timpani heartbeat of the Beethoven Violin Concerto underlying hazy woodwind lines as the violin beautifully drifts above, almost lost in thought. The third movement is a wild blitz of energy, lurching, syncopated, viscerally alive. A drum kit seemed to appear out of nowhere. It is a modernist block party. The last movement, titled “Adieu,’’ pulls back with a more questing tone. Interlocking upward scales run like bubbles to a surface. The brasses churn darkly. Salonen’s control of timbre here is remarkable. Thursday night, violin soloist Leila Josefowicz, playing from memory, gave it a winning, physically charged performance.
Jeremy Eichler, Boston Globe,13/04/2012
...Salonen offered a big new work of his own: the Violin Concerto, written for the fearless young virtuoso Leila Josefowicz. When Salonen announced that he was giving up the Los Angeles job, he said that he wanted to devote more time to composing, and the strength of his latest pieces suggests that he has not made a foolish choice. (His other conducting gig, at the Philharmonia Orchestra, in London, takes less of his time.) Salonen the composer is more openly expressive than Salonen the conductor...
Alex Ross, The New Yorker,27/04/2009
In a program note about his new Violin concerto, a 30-minute work for in four movements, he writes that it is in some ways a "summary of my experiances as a musician and a human being at the watershed age of 50." If that sounds like a big agenda for one piece, the concerto comes across as a rhapsodic, inspired and restless work, too immediate to weigh down listeners with philosophical musings.
Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times,11/04/2009
Thursday night in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Salonen premiered his Violin Concerto, and it is pure, euphoric poetry with a singular sound and voice.
Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times,10/04/2009
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