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Esa-Pekka Salonen composes a piano tribute to Steven Witser

March 2, 2010 |  2:51 pm


A new piece by Esa-Pekka Salonen will have its world premiere in Los Angeles this month as part of the current season of the new-music group Piano Spheres. But the composition arrives on a note of sadness because it was composed in honor of Steven Witser, the principal trombonist of the L.A. Philharmonic who died of a heart attack last April.

Salonen's "Pavane in Memory of Steve" will be performed on March 16 at the Colburn School's Zipper Concert Hall in downtown L.A. The piece is part of a concert featuring Joanne Pearce Martin, the principal keyboardist for the Philharmonic.

Pearce Martin said Salonen's new composition is a work for solo piano.

In a statement sent by Piano Spheres, she stated, "Steve Witser’s untimely death this past spring left the entire L.A. Phil family in utter shock. We were just recovering from all the wonderful celebrations of Esa-Pekka’s last two weeks with us, and then suddenly Steve was gone.  Esa-Pekka wanted to make a musical gesture in honor of Steve, and this piece is his way of showing how much this great musician and colleague positively affected the lives of everyone who knew him."

Salonen stepped down as music director of the L.A. Philharmonic at the end of the 2008-09 season.

Witser joined the orchestra as principal trombonist at the beginning of the 2007-08 season. He had previously served as acting principal trombonist of the Cleveland Orchestra, which he joined in 1989.

The Piano Spheres concert will also feature performances of Stephen Hartke's "Post-Modern Homages,"   Meyer Kupferman's "Distances," Gabriela Frank's "Sonata Andina," György Ligeti's "Chromatische Phantasie," Gernot Wolfgang's "Theremin's Journey for Theremin, Piano, & Electronica" and George Antheil's Toccata No. 2.

-- David Ng

Photo: Esa-Pekka Salonen. Credit:Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times