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Five of the best works by Esa-Pekka Salonen

The Finnish conductor, Esa-Pekka Salonen, is not just a dab hand on the podium: he is also a prolific composer. Here, we name some of his greatest compositions – as well as a few recommended recordings

Published: January 7, 2021 at 1:36 pm

Floof (1988)

Subtitled ‘Songs of a Homeostatic Homer’, Floof is scored for soprano plus amplified clarinet/contrabass clarinet, cello, piano, synthesizer and percussion. Salonen describes the piece, which stretches the singer to the limit, as ‘the ultimate product of the electro-troubadour, set to dodecaphonic rap music.’

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Recommended recording:

Anu Komsi (soprano), Avanti! Chamber Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen
Finlandia 0927 43815 2

LA Variations (1996)

Again, Salonen makes huge demands of his musicians, in this instance the players of the LA Philharmonic, for whom this 20-minute piece was written. Aside from the instrumental acrobatics, there are gorgeous passages of big-scale orchestral scene-painting.

Recommended recording:

Los Angeles Philharmonic/Esa-Pekka Salonen
Sony G0100031756279

Wing on Wing (2004)

Another LA Phil commission, Wing on Wing is inspired by the architecture of the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. Scored for two sopranos and orchestra, it moves from eerie stillness to a crashing climax… and back.

Recommended recording:

Any Komsi (soprano), Piia Komsi (soprano), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen
DG 4775375

Violin Concerto (2009)

Written for violinist Leila Josefowicz, who gave the world premiere in LA in Salonen’s last season with the orchestra. The wistful mood and title of the final movement – ‘Adieu’ – is, says Salonen, no coincidence.

Recommended recording:

Leila Josefowicz (violin), Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen
DG 4790628

Karawane (2014)

A large-scale choral and orchestral work that sets a poem of the same name by Hugo Ball, founder of the Dada movement. There are, unsurprisingly, moments of wacky humour, but much of it is also intensely powerful.

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Read our reviews of the latest Salonen recordings here

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