Salonen: A Great Piano Concerto

Salonen: A Great Piano Concerto
© Nicho Södling
"This guy is one of the greatest pianists I have ever heard." ***

This thought immediately flashed through Esa-Pekka Salonen's mind the first time he worked with Yefim Bronfman during a recording project in the late 1980s. "[Yefim] had a limitless technique, but also a sort of aristocratic musicality, taste, an amazing sense of sonority..." Since then, they've collaborated numerous times. Bronfman notes "...I have been begging [Esa-Pekka] for [a concerto] ever since I first learned Dichotomie [for solo piano]...I thought 'Here is somebody who could write a great piano concerto.' " On 1 February, Bronfman gets his wish as he joins Salonen for the New York Philharmonic's commissioned premiere of the composer's Piano Concerto.

Salonen programmed his new work with Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin and Ravel's orchestration of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. "All the music is, so to speak, 'about the piano,' since both Tombeau and Pictures were originally piano pieces," he observes. "The music I write is connected to the music I conduct and the music I listen to. There is no such thing as composing with a tabula rasa — a clean slate...[there is] already a certain accumulated is supposed to be a language, and it can only function if there is some syntax. A language only means something if somebody else speaks the same language, too."

Bronfman cites that Salonen's work is his first-ever concerto premiere. "I worked a long time [and] very hard to learn Dichotomie, and I can see this is just as hard." "That's interesting to hear," Salonen quips. "When I gave [Yefim] the first 15 minutes of the piano part a while back, [he] seemed so cool about it; nothing seemed to bother [him], so I went back and wrote some hellishly difficult stuff at the end." Bronfman quickly adds, "I just hope I can play it!"

*** As told to Steven Stucky for playbillarts.comPiano Concerto
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