Commissioned by the BBC for the BBC Proms

  • 3(pic).3(ca).2.2+cbn/
  • 9 min

Programme Note

I decided to compose a celebratory and direct overture-like piece, which would nevertheless be very rigidly structured, and based on essentially one continuous process. The form of Helix can indeed be described as a spiral or a coil; or more academically a curve that lies on a cone and makes a constant angle with the straight lines parallel to the base of the cone.

The process of Helix is basically that of a nine-minute accelerando. The tempo gets faster, but the note values of the phrases become correspondingly longer. Therefore only the material’s relation to the pulse changes, not necessarily the impression of speed itself. Hence the spiral metaphor: the material (which consists essentially of two different phrases) is being pushed through constantly narrowing concentric circles until the music reaches a point where it has to stop as it has nowhere to go.

The musical expression changes quite drastically in the course of these nine minutes: the idyllic, almost pastoral opening phrase for piccolo and contra-bassoon returns much later in the horns and trumpets, fortissimo, surrounded by a very busy tutti orchestra. The closing section shows the material in an almost manic light.

It has been a very inspiring task to write a piece for my friend Valery Gergiev and the World Orchestra for Peace, to whom Helix is dedicated. These are amazing musicians with no limits to their capacity. I have worked with many of the players over the years around the world. Writing this piece has felt like a more personal undertaking than usual.

© Esa-Pekka Salonen





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