3 March 2011

Esa-Pekka Salonen - Foreign Bodies

One of the things I love about classical music is that it's constantly evolving and there's always exciting new things happening. Right now there's a lot of talk about Mark-Antony Turnage's new opera Anna Nicole, last summer was the premiere of the amazing opera A Dog's Heart by Alexander Raskatov, and there are lots of exciting composers like Nico Muhly, Matthias Pintscher, James MacMillan, Michel van der Aa, Thomas Adès, Sofia Gubaidulina, John Adams, Louis Andriessen etc etc. My favourite contemporary composer, however, is Esa-Pekka Salonen (he's also one of my favourite conductors). He's written lots of amazing works; Piano and Violin Concertos, Helix, Insomnia, Wing on Wing, LA Variations etc. My favourite is Foreign Bodies which is an incredibly exciting work (if you only want to listen to one part, which would be foolish by the way, I suggest III):

Foreign Bodies: I Body Language

Foreign Bodies: II Language

Foreign Bodies: III Dance

Esa-Pekka Salonen (1958-) is a Finnish composer and also a rather well-known conductor. As a conductor he's a champion of contemporary music, and has conducted quite a few premieres like Arvo Pärt's Symphony No.4, Louis Andriessen's Haags Hakkûh, Mark-Antony Turnage's From the Wreckage and a whole bunch of works by Marcus Lindberg and of course himself. As a composer his main influence seems to be (to my ears anyway) Igor Stravinsky, they have a similar rhythmic drive and spastic melodies. He says this about music: ""Musical expression is bodily expression, there is no abstract cerebral expression in my opinion. It all comes out of the body." Apparently he is planning to write an opera which would surely be the greatest thing ever.

This is what he has to say about Foreign Bodies:

"“Foreign Bodies” is scored for a very large orchestra; in fact the largest I have ever used with quadruple woodwinds, six horns, two harps, four percussionists and organ. For fairly obvious reasons, my thinking tends to be orchestral even when writing music for another medium, which makes it very natural to expand ideas in an orchestral context. I’m endlessly fascinated by the complexities of texture, balance, timbre and instrumental gesture; therefore the category “Kapellmeistermusik” has no pejorative meaning to me.

As the title “Foreign Bodies” suggests (it actually suggests lots of things), the music is very physical in expression, almost like an imaginary scène de ballet. The title also refers to the fact that I am less concerned about the purely cerebral aspects of music and more interested in the physical reality of the music, i.e. the sound itself, than before. Also, more than two decades of conducting have helped me to think in a simpler, more direct way than before."

If you enjoy this piece I suggest listening to Gambit, Mania and Insomnia. Unfortunately it's not easy to find any music by Salonen on the internet (*some* record label owns him and doesn't like his music being on youtube) buuut there is a video here of Salonen conducting three of his own works: Helix, the Violin Concerto (which is amazing, it even has a drumkit! My favourite bit is from 28 minutes onwards when for some reason he starts laughing) and Wing on Wing (this piece was somewhat of a grower for me, but I love it now!).

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