MusicNOW 20 Season Finale Review- Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts at Symphony Center, Chicago

Musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, guest musicians, Esa-Pekka Salonen conductor, Karen Gomyo violin Samuel Adams Mead Composer-in-Residence Elizabeth Ogonek Mead Composer-in-Residence, at MusicNOW, May 21, 2018, Symphony Center, Chicago
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The 20th season of MusicNOW concluded May 21st, 2018 at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, Chicago. Legendary Finnish Guest Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, in town for his subscription series with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, led its musicians and guest artists in ensemble with special guest vioinist Karen Gomyo in a program about which he enthused on his Twitter page: “Very excited about this. Two World Premieres by massively talented young composers, Ogonek and Adams. Add two powerful Nordics, Thorvaldsdottir and Lindberg. I’d actually buy a ticket myself if I weren’t busy that evening.”

Salonen, described as “restlessly innovative”, appeared confident, composed and in easy, thorough command of the music. The concert also marked the end of the 3-year Mead Composer-in-Residency of Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek, both of whom had prepared new works that premiered this evening. New artistic leadership for the MusicNOW series will be announced at a later date.

Mead Composers-in-Residence Samuel Adams and Elizabeth Ogonek at the season finale of MusicNOW, May 21, 2018, Orchestra Hall, Chicago

The program:

– Magnus Lindberg Related Rocks, 1997

Lindberg studied composition at the Sibelius Academy with Salonen; later they both joined with other classmates in forming the new-music appreciation group “Korvat Auki” (Ears open) as well as the experimental ensemble “Toimii” (It works). This piece, scored for 2 pianos, 2 percussionists and electronics, didn’t require a conductor, but must’ve given Salonen joy as he listened to the elaborate and colorful configurations. The pianists, Daniel Schlosberg and Mio Nakamura, played on dual Steinway Grand pianos, and also on electronic keyboards while the percussionists, Ian Ding and Vadim Karpinos, also used various keyboards- and many sizes of hanging metallic gongs- to produce a whirling, swirling sonority of resonance yet with a coherent, consistent dramatic sense. There are a myriad of otherworldly, bell-like, cymbal-infused, spectral aspects to this truly wonderful piece.

Musicians performing “Related Rocks” by Marcus Lindberg, MusicNOW, May 21, 2018, Orchestra Hall, Chicago

– Elizabeth Ogonek The Water Cantos {notes from quiet places},World Premiere, MusicNOW Commission, 2018

Salonen emerged from the wings to conduct this absolutely beautiful homage to nature’s liquid depths, which Ogonek has said was inspired by the fine short stories of Rick Bass as well as “a series of portraits” derived from touring with CSO musicians. Scored for 12 instruments, with 4 cellists (Mark Brandfonbrenner, Oleksander Mycyk, Calum Cook and Joshua Zajac); 3 percussionists (Cynthia Yeh, Vadim Karpinos and Ian Ding); 2 clarinets/bass clarinets (John Bruce Yeh and Teresa Reilly); piano (Daniel Schlosberg); and flute/piccolo/ alto flute (Emma Gerstein), this was a particularly beautiful piece, resonant yet with distinct periods of atonality. Darker concepts alternate with patterns of sparkling melody; trills and cascades herald vistas of more troubled waters.

Throughout, Salonen was completely invested in the piece; his movements are spare but thoroughly engaged and knowing, fluid, disarmingly relaxed.

– Anna Thorvaldsdóttir Ró {Serenity}, 2013

This was a singularly inventive piece in which percussionist Cynthia Yeh used wood blocks, a huge gong, and even a wad of crumpled paper among more traditional instruments under the watchful eye of Salonen to create various unusual sounds. With Daniel Schlosberg leading what was in essence a piano quintet, (consisting of Baird Dodge and Hermine Gagné, violins; Youming Chen, viola; and Joshua Zajac, cello; along with John Thorne, bass flute; and John Bruce Yeh, bass clarinet,) the meditative and breathy work was almost preternaturally calm, reminiscent of Celtic influences, and entrancing. It’s a rich, lush, mesmerizing piece with periods of agitated sound resolving back into the enveloping serenity.

Violinist Karen Gomyo, Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, musicians from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and guest musicians performing Samuel Adams’ “Chamber Concerto”

– Samuel Adams Chamber Concerto, World Premiere, MusicNOW Commission, 2018

This was a 30-minute long piece large in conception, scored for 14 chamber musicians, (Emma Gerstein, flute/piccolo; John Thorne, flute/alto flute; Teresa Reilly, clarinet; John Bruce Yeh, bass clarinet/contrabass clainet; Baird Dodge, violin; Hermine Gagné, violin; Matous Michal, violin; Li-Kuo Chang, violin; Joshua Zajac, cello; Mark Brandfonbrenner, cello; Alexander Hanna, bass; Cynthia Yeh, percussion; Vadim Karpinos, percussion; and Daniel Schlosberg, keyboard.)

Adams has referred to this violin concerto as “Possibly my most extroverted piece of music ever”. Plaintively and emotionally performed by the subtle, precise and intense Canadian guest violinist Karen Gomyo on her 1703 “Aurora exFoulis” Stradivarius, the music contained meandering quiet instrumental passages punctuated by peaks of melodic expressiveness, the whole strongly rhythmic.

Composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen was music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he is now Conductor Laureate, is composer in residence at the New York Philharmonic, is the principal conductor and advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. He will lead the Chicago Symphony Orchestra May 24th-26th in concerts featuring pianist Mitsuko Uchida.

For information and tickets to all of the great programming of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, go to the cso website

All photos by Todd Rosenberg


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