Piano Concerto #2 (LA Phil co-commission; U.S. premiere)
Length: c. 16 minutes
Orchestration: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons (2nd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, percussion (vibraphone, marimba, crotales, almglocken, xylophone, tubular bells, flexatone, triangle, tam-tam, temple blocks, tuned gongs, bass drum, handbells), strings, and solo piano
First LA Phil performance (U.S. premiere)
Haukur Tómasson studied at the Reykjavík College of Music and received a master’s degree from the University of California, San Diego; he also studied in Cologne and Antwerp. He has composed works across the spectrum of classical music, including concertos for violin, viola, flute, oboe, and two basses, as well as piano. He received the 2004 Nordic Council Music Prize for his chamber opera Gudrún’s 4th Song. His Piano Concerto No. 2 was premiered in Hamburg in February 2017, by Víkingur Ólafsson with the NDR Elbphilharmonie under Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Tómasson sometimes references traditional Icelandic folk music in his work, and the soloist begins the Piano Concerto No. 2 with an etherealized allusion to tvísöngur, the ancient Icelandic tradition of twin song. Tómasson quickly expands his interval palette far beyond the fifths characteristic of tvísöngur, but the piano remains in essentially two-part parallel mode for the first quarter of the piece, with shadows and reflections in the orchestra.
The music grows more agitated and virtuosic, rising to several climaxes, but subsiding into quiet worlds from which it gathers renewed strength, and the obsessive repeated notes always return in some form, as does the two-part parallel writing. Tómasson asks his soloist for a virtuosity as much mental and esthetic as digital, and demands much from the orchestra as well, in colorful and inventive scoring that does not rely on unusual instruments or techniques for its effects. (Rémy Louis, in his Diapason review of the premiere, writes that the pointillism of the concerto “evokes a Seurat revisited by Paul Klee.”)
At the end, the repeated notes remain, in an eerie fractured world of seconds and sevenths. Only the trembling strings stick with the soloist, whose soft, upward escape evaporates.