Los Angeles Times Review:

Old-home week as Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to Disney Hall

Former music director Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the premiere of a Magnus Lindberg cello concerto for soloist Anssi Karttunen. Plus Debussy and Bartók too.

October 20, 2013|By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic

The Los Angeles Philharmonic's monthlong 10th-anniversary celebration of the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall entered Phase 2 on Friday night. Esa-Pekka Salonen was back. And it was old-home week.

The former music director's old Finnish friends were on hand for the premiere of Magnus Lindberg's Cello Concerto No. 2, written for soloist Anssi Karttunen. There were other old friends as well — Debussy and Bartók. Both composers were mainstays of Salonen's 17 years leading the L.A. Phil.

The playing was superb. The audience was large and acutely enthusiastic. A sense of well-being seemed to pervade the hall. Anyone wanting to understand why Disney has been such a success and the L.A. Phil appears an unusually happy orchestra, at least to the limited extent any orchestra in this day and age is going to be happy, could find out why with this program. ...

Salonen also saw to it that both Lindberg and Karttunen became longtime L.A. Phil regulars, and that included the U.S. premiere of Lindberg's dramatic First Cello Concerto at the Ojai Festival in 1999 and a repeat performance at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 2002. Many of Lindberg's major orchestral scores of the last decade have made it to Disney. ...

But Disney Hall, of which Salonen was the artistic driving force during the venue's first six years, appears to have given a cerebral conductor permission to become as sensually involved with sound as he has always been intellectually.

The same might be said of Lindberg, who has evolved from an early experimentalist into a more robustly communicative composer, so much so that he has alienated some of his early avant-garde champions. The lyrical Second Cello Concerto is in that vein in that effusive melodic phrases are sometimes underpinned by harmonies and grand orchestral flourishes only a little too modern for Hollywood.

Even so, writing for Karttunen and Salonen means Lindberg can get away with nothing. Each knows the other almost well enough to be able to read their musical minds. Lindberg also happens to be a pianist with a monster technique, and he and Karttunen sometimes perform together as Dos Coyotes. The new concerto is, in fact, an expansion of Lindberg's "Santa Fe Project," which the duo premiered in 2006.

The solo cello writing has a slightly autumnal flavor — maybe too autumnal for a vital 55-year-old composer (he was born three days before Salonen). But this is also brilliantly mature cello writing that takes full advantage of Karttunen's natural grace unruffled by even the most extreme virtuosic demands.

Mainly, Lindberg exploits the cellist's mastery of nuance. The orchestra is of modest size (no percussion). Unlike in his first concerto, where cellist and orchestra are in fierce contrast, Lindberg removes conflict by painting with glowing instrumental colors an exotic sonic landscape around which the cello dives and dances and exults.

You couldn't tell from a performance that came across as already in the blood of the musicians, but the concerto was a rush job. The L.A. Phil offered Lindberg the commission in June when it became clear that Oliver Knussen's Cello Concerto, originally announced for this slot, would not be ready in time. Resources for a last-minute commission came from the Esa-Pekka Salonen Commissions Fund, which the L.A. Phil established as a going-away present to the conductor when his tenure ended in 2009 and as a lure to keep him coming back.

So if you are looking for the secret of the L.A. Phil success story, the nourishing of long-term relationships is an excellent place to start.

© Mark Swed


Strings Magazine review:

A Cello Concerto Fit for a Starship Crew

Magnus Lindberg's new Cello Concerto No. 2, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Walt Disney Concert Hall, received its premiere Saturday night by its dedicatee Anssi Karttunen.

It sounded very cool, like classical music for a starship crew. 

Conducted by former LA Phil music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, the philharmonic opened with Debussy's Nocturnes and ended with Bartok's Music for strings, percussion and celesta. But, really, last night, it was Magnus Lindberg's thing. The 20-minute piece opens with a radiant solo, Karttunen's complex silver tone projecting through strings and evanescent winds, soaring aloft before minor keys approach which the cello counters with rising Schumann-esque arpeggiating leaps above a pedal point.

The exciting, extravagant, dense swaths of sound and color which result veer among pillars of romantic tonality and move ahead according to some disjointed, incongruously melodramatic orchestral narrative more modern in style than the conservative cadential "solutions" the solo cello usually finds. Suddenly, halfway through, the cellist surges majestically upward with double stops, the orchestral cries out like strobe lights, then just as suddenly the music subsides one last time. The cello says goodbye with flautando glissandi the length of the A string.

The music ends when a bassoon burps a few well-chosen notes. Added to his heroic virtuosity, in which he commanded every vista and surmounted every technical impossibility that Lindberg threw his way, Karttunen conspired brilliantly with Salonen and the philharmonic to unfold the music in an organic, inevitable, vividly Technicolor way. 

You can't get a recording of this new Cello Concerto yet, but you can get an idea of Lindberg's overwhelming, masterful style in the new Ondine recording of his Violin Concerto of 2006, performed by Pekka Kuusisto.

© Laurence Vittes


Photos © Muriel von Braun

Culture Spot LA review:

Salonen returns to Disney Hall with Lindberg and Karttunen

October 27, 2013

Esa-Pekka Salonen returned to the podium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to continue the 10th-anniversary celebration concerts of the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall with the world premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No. 2 with Anssi Karttunen.

Conductor Laureate Salonen and the orchestra introduced their personal friends and repertoire friends to Disney Hall Oct. 18-20 (this performance was Saturday, Oct 19). His longtime colleagues, Lindberg and Karttunen, returned for this anniversary concert to premiere their new work that was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Lindberg’s LA Phil commission and his collaborations and kinship with Salonen came to fruition with his new cello concerto. He and Karttunen are close associates, and their music benefits from their long-term collaboration. Lindberg has gained a technical knowledge of the cello and insight into its complex voice. Add that to Karttunen’s elegant style and virtuosic skill to produce a magical sound, full of imagination and nuance. The orchestra was traditional and small, without percussion.  Its intensity derived from the occasional expressionist motifs mixed in with delightful tonal snippets. Themes would bounce back and forth between the orchestra and Karttunen, but the orchestral writing was relatively conventional in comparison to his endless variations of timbre and effect.

Bravo to Lindberg on a wonderful concerto! Bravo to Karttunen on a stirring performance!

© Theodore Bell


Sinfonica de Galicia, DIma Slobodeniouk, 19.11.2015

Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Mikko Franck, 11.12.2015

Finnish Radio Orchestra, Hannu Lintu, 18.12.2015


Magnus Lindberg's Cello Concerto 2 was born under unusual circumstances involving three of my best friends. In 2006 Magnus wrote the Santa Fe Project for cello and piano for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and we played it together in Santa Fe and in La Jolla, California. He mentioned immediately that he felt the piece was asking to be orchestrated. The following winter he told me that he had advanced quite far with the orchestration but had to leave it unfinished because of other work. He promised to come back to it once some orchestra commissioned it. 

Years went by and a suitable commission didn't materialize. I was starting to get worried that if too much time went by he would not be able to return to an old piece. Suddenly in the summer of 2013 a problem came up for which Magnus' unfinished orchestration would eventually be the solution. Oliver Knussen was writing a Cello Concerto for me to play in Los Angeles on the 18th of October that year. The piece had been postponed once already, replaced that time with Dutilleux's Tout un monde lointain. At the beginning of July it started to look more and more likely that Olly would not be able to finish his Concerto in time, but he really wanted to write it and didn't want to cancel yet. I was getting very stressed at the idea that if he did finish the piece just a few days before the concert I would not have time to learn it and would be a nervous wreck the whole summer waiting for it.

At this point I told of my worries to Esa-Pekka Salonen (who was to conduct) and we put together a plan B. Esa-Pekka asked the Los Angeles Philharmonic if they would agree to re-program Olly's Concerto later should he postpone and - by the way - would they agree to pass on the commission to Magnus if I could persuade him to finish his 2nd Concerto. They agreed, on the condition that I convince Olly and the piece be delivered on the 1st of September. Next I asked Magnus if he would have time to finish the piece in the weeks that remained. He said he could try, provided Olly was on board with the idea. So I was left with the task of writing the most diplomatic e-mail of my life to Olly explaining the situation, the stress I was going through and finally suggesting that by pulling out this time he would actually help a composer friend and give me an extra concerto to play. This would allow him to write his own concerto when he felt ready and the premiere in Los Angeles would still happen. Olly took pity on me and agreed that we could proceed with Magnus, who by this time had only 5 weeks to finish his Concerto. 

That summer Magnus had to give up all the fishing, family time and mushroom hunting he was planning for and isolate himself to finish the piece. On the 31st of August at 9pm I received the piece by e-mail. At that moment, although I felt an unbelievable weight lift off my shoulders I couldn't make myself click on the file to open it. When I finally did I just stared at it and felt tears running down my face. Relief, happiness, sadness, excitement, all got mixed up in my head. 

Because of this background and because the Concerto is also a wonderfully exciting piece I have a very special relation with it. Meanwhile, the plan for Oliver Knussen's Concerto stayed alive, the concert was re-programmed many times, every time there was some reason to delay it just a little further. Olly kept describing to me how the piece was developing in his head. The form changed, the number of movements also, I was starting to know the piece quite well by description. It just needed putting down on paper and some corners needed polishing. But he could never make himself actually sit down and write it. When Olly suddenly died last summer the plan of the Cello Concerto finally died with him.  All I ever got to see was one page of the solo part which he faxed me about 11 years ago. I feel an immense sadness for losing a friend but I can't feel too sad about the concerto not having been finished. The time just was not right for his piece but thanks to that we have another wonderful Concerto that might not have been born otherwise.

Anssi Karttunen, September 2018

Program notes for the Premiere in Los Angeles 18-20. October. 2013:

Magnus Lindberg and Anssi Karttunen are long-time friends, colleagues and performing partners. On his website, Karttunen lists 13 works by Lindberg that feature the cello, from 1978 to 2010 (not including this newest creation). Karttunen has premiered, recorded, and/or transcribed or arranged most of them. They play recitals together as Dos Coyotes, which is also the title of a piece on an Ondine CD recently nominated for a Gramophone Award in the contemporary music category.

Lindberg’s works for cello and orchestra also often involve Esa-Pekka Salonen in his conducting role. The competing disc that just won the Gramophone Award for contemporary music is a program of music by Henri Dutilleux that includes Karttunen playing that composer’s cello concerto, Tout un monde lointain, with Salonen conducting the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon.

Karttunen and Salonen gave the world premiere of Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with the Orchestre de Paris, in May 1999, followed a month later by the U.S. premiere with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Ojai Festival; they repeated the Concerto here in April 2002. (Karttunen, of course, has also been closely associated with Salonen in his composing mode, playing and recording YTA III, the concerto Mania, and Sarabande per un Coyote.)

In his First Cello Concerto, Lindberg began with the soloist alone, bringing in the orchestra in subtle echoes and elaborations. He opens similarly here, in a compressed way. High and lonely, the solo cello presents the basic motif, a minor third (B – D) expanding to a perfect fourth (B-flat – E-flat), with the violas and second violins a ghostly shadow. The soloist extends the expansion with a phrase up to F-sharp that also offers plenty of pliable motivic elements, rhythmic and gestural as well as intervals and pitches.

From there the Concerto unfolds as a series of continuous variations, like a very detail-oriented passacaglia. The monster cadenza at the centre of the piece is fully composed, unlike the cadenza in Lindberg’s First Cello Concerto, which was improvised, or, as Karttunen said, “left to the soloist’s (in-) discretion.” Shortly into the cadenza, Lindberg reminds us of that basic motif, as the cello oscillates between B and D in a shivery sul ponticello tremolo, suddenly highlighted by the upper orchestral strings.

The cello takes up the cadenza from that point with a passage emphasizing its low C string. After the cadenza, the pull of that low C becomes stronger, as bass lines descend toward it. At the end, the orchestral basses push past it, to low B, and Lindberg has the soloist detune quickly, to close softly on low B. With all of the motivic exuberance winnowed away, the final destiny of the manic interval expansion is revealed: a perfect fifth, B and F-sharp.

© John Henken


Composed: 2006-2013

Duration: 20 minutes

Orchestration: Solo cello, 2fl,2ob,2cl,2bn/2hn,1tr,1trb/str.(8-7-6-5-4)

World Première: Los Angeles 18-20 October 2013; Anssi Karttunen, cello, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen


Recording: Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu 17-18.8.2015

Sinfónica de Galicia, Dima Slobodeniouk, 19.11.2015

Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Mikko Franck, 11.12.2015

Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Hannu Lintu, 18 and 20.12.2015

Konzerthausorchester Berlin, Jukka Pekka Saraste, 1.4.2017

Joensuu Symphony Orchestra, Jurjen Hempel 8.5.2019

London Philharmonic Orchestra, Joshua Weilerstein, 07.10.2020

Online score at Boosey&Hawkes

CD available from Ondine: