Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen
Ravel: Suite from Ma Mère l'Oye
Esa-Pekka Salonen: Violin Concerto - Leila Josefowicz
Sibelius: Symphony No 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 82
After spending 17 years making the LA Philharmonic not just relevant, but cool, and focusing on his own composing, it seems like acclaimed Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen will be on the road a little bit more frequently from now on, to the delight of countless music lovers. A guest appearance with the New York Philharmonic this week and next Tuesday to conduct his own violin concerto in the company of the fearless violinist for whom he wrote it, Leila Josefowicz, looked just like a case in point and was more than enough of a reason for me to walk back down to the Lincoln Center yesterday evening.
And that was not all. Sibelius' fifth symphony would be the other compelling work on the program, the timing of this being all the more appropriate as I was supposed to attend an all-Sibelius concert by The Minnesota Orchestra at Carnegie Hall yesterday evening, which was cancelled due to the orchestra's on-going work stoppage. Although the Avery Fisher Hall does not come even close to Carnegie Hall in terms of acoustical bliss, I was probably still in a better place there since I stood to mightily benefit from the Finnish connection between composer and conductor, as well as from the famed virtuosity of the New York Philharmonic.
The concert opened with the orchestral version of Ravel's Suite from Ma Mère l'Oye. Inspired by excerpts of French fairy tales, the five short pieces were subtle and sweet. A nice little trifle to whet our appetite a little more.
Salonen's violin concerto, on the other hand, was a substantial, unique and fascinating piece of work, which Leila Josefowicz attacked with unremitting fierceness and prodigious technique. Her signature predilection for contemporary composers and eagerness to boldly tread onto unchartered territory has made her the ideal interpreter of thorny, unusual, but ultimately rewarding musical adventures. As Salonen has been relentlessly exploring the limits of the violin's possibilities, occasionally slightly crossing over the borders, with this concerto, she has resolutely made the challenging journey her own. It is not a concerto for the traditionalist or the faint of heart, with its breakneck speed episodes, eerily soaring lines and brashly cacophonous moments, but it is not overly abstruse either. Not to mention that the incongruous appearance of some rock 'n' roll percussion certainly added a touch of relatable urban culture to the proceedings.
The performance was absolutely admirable and the ovation understandably huge, so huge in fact that she eventually granted us an encore, another violin piece "by Mr. E.P.S.", which was unsurprisingly another marvel of technical wizardry.
After the esoteric experiment, we moved on to more classical fare with Sibelius' majestic Symphony No 5. Setting a brisk but not hurried pace, Salonen led the more than willing orchestra into an expansive, but still tightly controlled, performance of this magnificent evocation of the rugged Finnish countryside, vividly emphasizing the organic beauty of the composition. I left the concert hall disappointed by the absence of an encore despite a long and loud ovation - Finlandia would have been such a perfect parting gift - but buoyant by the fact that I did get to hear some fabulous Sibelius last night after all.