“Out of Nowhere” comes the First Great Concerto of the 21st Century

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“Out of Nowhere” is a new album from Deutsches Grammophone containing two works by composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. Aside from the brief Dona Nobis Pacem for a cappella chorus, the works on this CD, Nyx and the Violin Concerto written in 2010 and 2009 respectively, are the most recent compositions to come from Maestro Salonen, who now has some 38 works to his credit.

As a whole, this music has been described as “postmodern impressionism.” It has the large orchestral forces of Shostakovich, the harmonic range of Stravinsky and the colors of Ravel and Debussy. The Violin Concerto, brilliantly performed by Leila Josefowicz with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, begins with the solo violin dizzily spinning a gossamer thread. A few measures in, it becomes punctuated by gentle and irregular pulses of color from, as the album notes reveal, “celesta, glockenspiel, harp and vibraphone.” The effect is so Messiaenic.

Salonen is a supreme master of orchestration. This certainly comes, at least in part, from having the best seat in the house for Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts for 17 seasons (even if he did have to stand). An example: in Pulse II of the Violin Concerto, while the solo violin floats aloft, the orchestra far below produces chilling, thunderous strokes, like pummeling blows on an enormous drum, each one accompanied by what sounds like shattering glass and a sense that the ground is shaking. Salonen has conjured a monster to walk the earth.

While with the orchestration itself Salonen can hold his listener spellbound, there is so much more to this music than these incredible sounds. I can’t find who the quote should be attributed to, but many websites report that this is “the first great concerto of the 21st century.” I believe that this is true, and would go further and suggest that these works will long hold an important place in early 21st century music.