Esa-Pekka Salonen wins the 2012 Grawemeyer Award


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Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Violin Concerto has won the 2012 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. The award is generally considered the most prestigious international honor for a new score; past winners have been several such masters of modern music as Witold Lutoslawski, György Ligeti and Pierre Boulez.

A farewell to Los Angeles, the concerto was completed and premiered in 2009 during Salonen’s emotional final weeks as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It has since been played around the world.


“My publisher called one morning recently and asked if I was sitting down,” Salonen said last week following a rehearsal for guest conducting appearances with the L.A. Phil in Walt Disney Concert Hall. “‘No,’ I said, but I very soon was.”

The 2012 Grawemeyer, which honors the winner with $100,000, is also further acknowledgement of the L.A. Phil as a leader in contemporary music during Salonen’s 17 years as music director. The orchestra now becomes the only one to have commissioned and premiered two Grawemeyer winners, the other having been Peter Lieberson’s “Neruda Songs,” which Salonen premiered in 2005. As a result, Salonen becomes the only conductor to have led the premieres of two winning scores –- the Lieberson and his own concerto. Salonen and the L.A. Phil were also the first to record Lutoslawski’s Third Symphony, which won the first Grawemeyer in 1985, and Salonen was also the first to record Kaija Saariaho’s opera “L’Amour de Loin,” the 2003 winner.

In the case of Salonen’s Violin Concerto, the Grawemeyer endorses what has already proven to be a popular work. Marc Satterwhite, a composer and the Grawemeyer director, described it as “such an exciting piece that from the first measure it grips you and doesn’t let you go.”

Satterwhite also noted that it is always a bonus when the award goes to a composer who is also a noted performer, which means that the piece is likely to get many performances. With this violin concerto, that is particularly the case. Salonen and the violinist Leila Josefowicz, for the whom the solo part was written, already have a number of performances scheduled over the next six months, beginning with the San Francisco Symphony in December.

Early next year, they will play the concerto with orchestras in Milan, Italy; Brussels; Luxembourg; Friedrichshafen, Germany; Philadelphia; Boston; and London. In June, Thomas Zehetmair will take up the concerto, performing it with Salonen in Hamburg, Germany. Julia Fischer will be the concerto’s soloist with the Vienna Philharmonic in 2013.

“It may be the first time the Vienna Philharmonic will use a heavy drum kit, and I find it delicious that we will play it in the Theater an der Wien,’ Salonen said, laughing, since the historic hall is where Beethoven often premiered new work. The third movement of the concerto has an urban beat -- “Something very California in all this. Hooray for freedom of expression. And thank you, guys!” he wrote in the original program note.


The lyrical, emotionally searing last movement is titled “Adieu.” Salonen wrote that “it is not a specific farewell to anything in particular.” But he admitted the other day that he was, of course, preoccupied with leaving the L.A. Phil while he was composing the movement.

Salonen’s Grawemeyer prize will focus attention on the L.A. Phil’s unique contribution to contemporary music. Over the years, the orchestra has developed close relationships with (and in most cases commissioned pieces from) an undoubtedly record number of Grawemeyer winners, including Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Boulez, John Adams (currently the L.A. Phil creative chair), Thomas Adès, Saariaho, Toru Takemitsu, Tan Dun, Bret Dean, Harrison Birtwistle, Unsuk Chin and Louis Andriessen. Last year’s Grawemeyer winner -- Andriessen’s opera “La Commedia” -- had its U.S premiere at an L.A. Phil Green Umbrella concert.


Music Review: Esa-Pekka Salonen premieres his Violin Concerto

Music review: Love and hate, juxtaposed

Music review: ‘La Commedia’ at the Green Umbrella Concert at Disney Hall

-- Mark Swed