Here is my Friday February 25 suntimes.com and Chicago Sun-Times review of the Wednesday February 23, 2011 Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert with guest conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen and violinist Leila Josefowicz in music of Salonen and Sibelius.
Esa-Pekka Salonen and Leila Josefowicz at the New York City Ballet performance of Salonen's Violin Concerto in June 2010. Photo © by Paul Kolnik, courtesy New York City Ballet
Salonen in top form as conductor, composer
Josefowicz a marvel in Finn's new violin concerto
By ANDREW PATNER
Repeats Saturday at 8 p.m.
At just 52, Esa-Pekka Salonen already has a major part of his career behind him: his 17-year run (through 2009) as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, reigning figure of Southern California’s lively classical music scene, and inaugurator of that orchestra’s acclaimed Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Fortunately, the Finnish conductor-composer is not resting on his laurels (as the Philharmonic’s first laureate conductor, he has them now). To catch him at Wednesday night’s Chicago Symphony Orchestra Afterwork Masterworks program was to find him better than ever in both of his callings.
His 2008-09 Violin Concerto, a co-commission by the CSO with the Philharmonic and the New York City Ballet that was to have had its world première here two years ago (until Salonen decided he wasn’t finished with the piece) shows him in top form, especially with American-Canadian violin whiz Leila Josefowicz as soloist. And his magnificent leadership of the Sibelius D Major Second Symphony was the best podium work I have ever heard from him in several halls and cities over the years.
Recharged? Growing? Or just in a good place? It hardly matters. Still looking like a trim teenager, Salonen is now principal conductor and artistic advisor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London and he has moved his family (save a daughter now in college in New York), his office, and his studio there after almost two decades in Los Angeles. He says that he wants to do more composing and -- as with his recent Piano Concerto, heard here with Salonen and Yefim Bronfman in 2006 -- he seems to have tapped into continuous flows of melody and patterns that speak to him yet create easily identifiable moods for the listener.
Running about half an hour, the four-movement Violin Concerto follows the soul of its creator or a stand-in through dreams, late-night contemplation, hyper-activity, and, the last movement is even so titled, a moving “Adieu.”
Josefowicz, 33, the work’s dedicatee and, Salonen says, “partner in the piece," plays, astonishingly, from memory, and she is so good and so unstoppable that she seems to surprise even herself as she sends the lengthy lines off from her 1724 del Gesù instrument. Several CSO string players looked as if they might fall off their seats as they leaned and craned their necks to see how she was pulling off one technical feat after another. Percussionist James Ross gets to “go crazy” (the composer’s words) with a drum-set solo in the rock ’n’ roll-inspired third movement (the one section of the work that felt a bit too long) and Salonen seemed very pleased with his efforts.
In the great 1902 Sibelius symphony, Salonen was the conductor my coastal critical colleagues hail but who has eluded me and many of my musician friends for years -- controlled and in control, never showing off but never phoning it in. He scraped all external sentimentality off of the work and let its natural yearning speak for itself. He forced no outside ideas but brought out the internal architecture of this national treasure from his homeland in a way that jarred the players from any previous habits or tics in this music. Daniel Gingrich captained an unblemished horn section, and principal Gene Pokorny used not one but two tubas (one a German double B-flat with a different tuning system) to round out their work with a haunting bass sound. In both works, bassoon William Buchman and tympani Vadim Karpinos had workouts that created musical keys to the pieces.
Wednesday’s abbreviated program skipped Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun with principal flute/magician Mathieu Dufour as soloist. If it’s not a stunner Saturday, that would be the first time. I’m going back myself. That’s how good this concert was.