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About this Piece

Composed: 2007
Length: c. 33 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (1st=piccolo 2, 2nd=alto flute and piccolo 3, 3rd=piccolo 1), 3 oboes (3rd=English horn), 3 clarinets (3rd=alto saxophone), bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, percussion (bass drum, cabassa tom-toms, congas, crotales, glockenspiel, 4 log drums, marimba, mark tree, tam-tam, vibraphone), harp, celesta, strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (West Coast premiere)

Movement I opens with slow, rather solemn music in dotted rhythms, scored for string orchestra, three piccolos, low woodwind, and percussion. I imagined this music as a modern version of some very formal (imaginary) slow French court dance from the Baroque era.

The piano enters. The first phrases are pensive and tentative, almost as if improvising: the piano is creating its own language and grammar here. Sudden timpani beats propel the piano into a faster, flickering kind of texture accompanied by the harp and the vibraphone as well as some wind soloists. The timpani leads again to the next phase, where the harp, two clarinets, and two bassoons play a variation of the previous piano music. This is the formal principle throughout the first movement: a continuous variation.

The piano enters. A playful dialogue between the soloist and woodwinds.

Orchestral Interlude I: A machine-like variation of the first piano solo.

The piano enters again. This time the piano line grows out of the orchestra almost imperceptibly. This episode is essentially a variation of the opening slow dance music. The persistent accompaniment figure in the left hand is going to be very important later on.

Orchestral Interlude II: A short passage for low woodwinds. Elegance of very large animals.

Now the pianist joins the solo viola as a duo partner. This music is constructed as a canon. The low woodwinds interrupt the duet suddenly. The little motif in the left hand earlier has grown into grotesque fast music here.

A fantasy on the note D. All movement rotates around the axis of this note.

Orchestral Interlude III: A fast tutti variation of the viola-piano duet.

The piano plays a new variation of the opening solo passage: forte fortissimo, with a grand romantic sweep, accompanied by arpeggios in the strings. This music slows down into a Coda, where the saxophone plays an endless, slow melody. The piano accompanies together with three piccolos. The music relaxes into a peaceful ending.

Movement II begins with a piano cadenza, which is virtuosic, but somehow nostalgic in character. The woodwinds and the French horn join one by one, and lead to:

Synthetic Folk Music with Artificial Birds I (My working title)

I imagined a post-biological culture, where the cybernetic systems suddenly develop an existential need of folklore. Composing intelligence creates music that somehow relates to an area that long time ago was called the Balkans. All this is accompanied by bird-robots.

An Homage to Stanislaw Lem.

A lyrical section follows after the sci-fi nightmare fades away. The piano plays a simple melody against a background of muted string ornaments. A few lonely birdcalls from the distance.

Persistent timpani beat leads to:

Synthetic Folk Music with Artificial Birds II. This time the birds are mostly in the piano part.

The music grows into a tutti section where the full orchestra plays the melody originally heard in the piano a while ago. The piano plays a texture derived from the opening cadenza. After culmination, the movement fades away very quickly.

Movement III is a kind of Rondo, where the recurring idea is not a theme, but a chain of five chords. These chords carry their own scale each, and therefore their own melody (or rather melodic possibilities).

The movement begins with an etude for the left hand, accompanied by a very lightly scored orchestra. A polyrhythmic juxtaposition of three notes against four becomes increasingly important. This virtuosic, kaleidoscopic music takes a breath for the first time when the D pedal point idea from the first movement returns in a different guise.

Fast music returns. The rhythmic patterns become more irregular in this section. We hear constantly new metamorphoses of the five chords in the piano part.

A short lyrical section featuring solo strings continues into the third phase of the Rondo. The polyrhythmic conflict is brought to a crisis. The timpani and drums restore the pulse violently. An accelerando leads to a virtuosic coda. At the very end the opening music of the first movement returns, triumphantly.

My Piano Concerto is dedicated to my friend Yefim Bronfman, one of the great musicians of our time.

— Esa-Pekka Salonen is Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.