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Esa-Pekka Salonen and his Violin Concerto take a new step at New York City Ballet

June 23, 2010 |  6:31 pm

Since leaving his position as Los Angeles Philharmonic music director last year, Esa-Pekka Salonen has been a regular at New York theaters. Last fall he made his debut at the Metropolitan Opera, leading an acclaimed run of Janacek’s “From the House of the Dead,” and Tuesday night, he was in the pit of Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater to conduct the world premiere of Peter Martins' ballet “Mirage,” set to Salonen's own Violin Concerto.

“Mirage”  featured the New York premiere of Salonen's concerto, which received its world premiere in April 2009 when performed by the L.A. Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall. (It was the composer's first piece to be presented as a ballet — back in 2007, the L.A. modern dance troupe Diavolo set his 2001 work, "Foreign Bodies," to dance at the Hollywood Bowl.)

Before the New York City Ballet performance began, Martins and Salonen were presented with Letters of Distinction from the American Music Center. Accepting his award, Salonen said: “My primary interest in music is the new — but not the new in isolation. The new that comes out of what we have already. It’s fitting that I receive this as I conduct a ballet, a new work on top of tradition.”

Then, after Maurice Kaplow led the New York City Ballet Orchestra through Prokofiev and Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son,” Salonen took over at the podium. The curtain rose to reveal Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s modernist designs as the skittering violin sounds of the opening bars were heard.
After hearing Salonen’s concerto at Disney Hall, I found the effect of the 30-minute piece different when its music was synchronized to dance and stagecraft. In Movement I (“Mirage”) what Salonen describes in cinematic terms as “an extreme close-up of the string” is accompanied by Calatrava’s giant sculpture/mobile dramatically rising and then morphing into what looks like a set of wings.

Then in Movement IV (“Adieu”), a swelling surge of the full orchestra brought Martins' dancers to a large pyramid form of partnered leaps. The final chord of the concerto, which rings with an altogether different sound from anything else in the piece, prompted a subtle cue of rainbow-colored light projected onto the stage and the dancers in their final tableau.

The curtain fell and the audience cheered. Salonen and soloist Leila Josefowicz (the Canadian violinist for whom Salonen wrote the concerto and to whom he dedicated it) earned hearty ovations from the crowd.  After three more performances in New York on Wednesday through Saturday, Salonen and Josefowicz  take the Violin Concerto to Chicago next February, performing it with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (which, along with City Ballet and the L.A. Phil, commissioned the piece.)

-- James C. Taylor


Review: Esa-Pekka Salonen premieres his Violin Concerto

With Esa-Pekka Salonen, L.A. has been in good hands

Esa-Pekka Salonen remembers an inimitable Ernest Fleischmann

Esa-Pekka Salonen + New York City Ballet = 'world premiere'?

Photo: Robert Fairchild and Kathryn Morgan in Peter Martins' "Mirage."  Photo Credit:  Paul Kolnik