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Composer Magnus Lindberg on his friendship with Salonen: 'The kind of collaboration you need"

November 19, 2010 | 10:30 am

Lindberg2005 When Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to the Walt Disney Concert Hall this weekend, after a full season’s absence, he will arrive as an old friend in a new guise, making his debut as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first conductor laureate. He will also be bringing along his own old friend to mark the occasion, composer Magnus Lindberg. In fact, the first piece Salonen will conduct during his two-week residency is Lindberg’s “Graffiti,” a recent work receiving its American premiere.

Lindberg and Salonen are more than mutually admiring colleagues –- their friendship dates to their student days in the early 1970s, when they attended the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland.

“We were booted into a special class to keep us apart from the other students,” Lindberg, 52, recalled recently, speaking by phone from New York, where he is the New York Philharmonic’s composer-in-residence. “It was theory class just for us, because we were too disruptive to the larger class."

In time, both young men emerged as composers, with Lindberg largely confining his efforts to writing rather than performing music, and Salonen leaning more toward performance, though he has certainly composed aplenty too.  

Lindberg ranked high among the many composers whose music Salonen championed during his 17 seasons as music director in L.A. Two of his works receiving their premieres here: “Fresco” in March 1998 and “Sculpture” in October 2005. Salonen also gave the American premiere of Lindberg’s mighty “Kraft” at the Ojai Music Festival in 1999. (That work was considered so daunting, it received its American indoor premiere only earlier this season, in New York.)

Lindbergsalonen “I’m so happy Esa-Pekka decided to program one of my works for his return,” Lindberg said, referring to “Graffiti.” The roughly 30-minute piece is scored for full orchestra and mixed chorus, in this case,the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Prior to completing it, the composer had largely avoided writing for voice. “It was a big project for me,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about writing an opera for 20 years, but I never got to it. Yet with ‘Graffiti,’ I felt I was ready for vocal music.”

The composer is reluctant to call “Graffiti” an oratorio, even though he acknowledges that it is one. The text is Latin and quotes real graffiti from ancient Rome. “They seem like they were written yesterday,” he said of the words, “even though they are 2,000 years old. It’s everything from high-level poetry to the rudest language. But because the rude language back then was extremely rude, I had to draw a line. I thought of my mother, who was coming to the premiere [in Helsinki]. But I still have some quite explicit texts in there. When the BBC broadcast Esa-Pekka’s performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra, it was run with a warning to parents. I’ve never been so proud as at that moment. ”

Though it’s been decades since Lindberg and Salonen –- who were born just three days apart -– lived in the same city, they are now often on the same continent. They speak weekly if not daily, according to Lindberg. “It’s like going to the shrink,” he said of their conversations. “We talk of everyday life.” He calls their friendship “a special connection,” with honesty about each other’s work a prized element. 

“I remember that in 1976 I gave Esa-Pekka three pieces for horn and string trio as a Christmas present,” Lindberg said. “This came back to my playing his huge cello sonata, and ever since we’ve been sharing. So in that respect he is certainly the musician with whom I’ve been working for the longest time. And he has done almost without exception all of my conducted music –- and many of them plenty of times. He’s very honest, telling me to fix this or that. And that’s the kind of collaboration you need.

"As a composer you are very alone, and getting those around you to spit out some negative things is not easy. But he can say, ‘This transition doesn’t work,’ without ruining our friendship. And that’s very special to me.”

-- David Mermelstein

Top photo: Magnus Lindberg at the 2005 L.A. Phil concert featuring the premiere of his "Sculpture," which was conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Above: Lindberg embraces Salonen after the performance. Credit: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times 

Comments () | Archives (7)

A "special connection?" Well, I suppose that's ONE way to describe it.

"At the same time he's reconnecting with old acquaintances, Salonen lately has been devoting more time to identifying and supporting next-generation composing talent. Talented young musicians and singers generally can be assured of being discovered, he said, but aspiring composers often face a more uncertain and precarious path to success. "


I'm not sure what to think about this gent. For 17 years of tenure, Salonen and the now departed Fleishman, couldn't not have done worse to classical music in LA. Yes, we have Disney which is an astonishing architectural marvel. As an American I'm offended with LAPO for programming far more Finish music than they did American music, not to mention LA composers who have for decades been sidelined to prevent an artistic threat to the likes of Salonen, and Stucky, and Adams. I recall a NY times interview by Salononen in which he is asked about the recognized profiling of LA composers, to which Salonen said that would change. It never did. Now he comes back to claim that he's helping new composers? What's next for Mr. Salonen? Help old ladies crossing the road during his free time?

It's unfortunate that the LA times has become the preferred news outlet of LAPO. I understand you need their advertisement. All I'm asking, is to put articles such as these two, in the advertisement section. Believe me, You would look much better.

Not sure if there's a manual of ethics for journalism laying around your office, but since the age of the insurgency ( a term coined by the LA times to shape the perceived tone of the Iraq "resistance" to Bush's illegal occupation which is the darkest moments in our history) that you need one. Right away.

Was at a concert in Glasgow, Scotland ,tonight given by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and heard the first performance in Scotland of Lindberg's
'Graffiti' It was superb and got a great reception from the audience. I am sure
the L.A. audience will enjoy it also.

Corrected, once more (sorry)

I find it quite hard to swallow Tom Sunderland's 'localistic' comment without challenging examples. What if East Coast contemporary music happens to be more interesting that the one composed on the West Coast? What if European (or Asian - think about Unsuk Chin's violin concerto) contemporary music happens to be more interesting than American?

And what if E-P Salonen as a truly international character on the new music scene happens to understand all this?

Finland has produced some outstanding world-class music in recent years, including Lindberg's Graffiti. It may not be as adventurous and path-breaking as his early works such as Kraft, but it is well worth introducing for the LA audiences.

So, Tom Sunderland, evidence, please.

Erkki Huhtamo

Lou, your homophobia is boring, when are you graduating the 3rd grade?

Tom Sunderland's comment is risible. Just John Adams alone was performed more than Salonen, Lindberg or Saariaho combined. Then there's Harrison, Bernstein, Barber, Copland and on and on that were performed during Mr. Salonen's tenure. I notice that all those great Los Angeles composers that you seem to think exist haven't exactly been overplayed on the LAP's concerts since Mr. Dudamel took over either.

Just because there's a boatload of film composers here doesn't mean they are worthy of a LAP commission. Oh....wait....we found that out during Mr. Salonen's tenure when he commissioned local film composers to write scores; it was supposed to be an ongoing series and it ended after 3 (maybe 2?) of them got performed, none of which got great reviews because *they're not orchestral composers*.

Mr. Huhtamo is right, it never occurs to people like you or the late Alan Rich that maybe, just maybe, American composers are inferior to their European and Asian counterparts.

And for pete's sake, take off the tin foil hat, you're embarrassing yourself.

And what if E-P Salonen as a truly international character on the new music scene happens to not understand all this?

I, personally, usually very much enjoy Mr. Lindberg's music. "Graffitti" was wonderful! Unfortunately, I can't say the same about Mr. Salonen's own compositions. From some of the comments I've read from critics outside LA, I'm not alone in that assessment.
It's no wonder Europeans think this country is on the verge of a civil war! What happened to "agreeing to disagree?" Why is it necessary to viciously attack & disparage everyone who has an opinion that isn't exactly one's own? And, Mr. Holland, your reference to me was so ludicrous & ridiculous it doesn't merit further comment.


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