A weekend with our Composer in Residence

Esa-Pekka Salonen in four concerts

Esa-Pekka Salonen
(Photo: Benjaming Suomela)

“Discover what you want to discover,” Esa-Pekka Salonen advises listeners. “My music should evoke feelings and conjure up images.” You can discover the music of the Finnish composer and conductor in four concerts in January and thus experience the diversity and richness of sound of his œuvre. The first concert series will feature a German premiere: a concerto for organ and orchestra. Salonen will also present a Late Night – with exciting contrasts between old and new music.

It catches the eye in the main auditorium of the Philharmonie – and yet is seldom heard in orchestral concerts: the organ, built in 1965. With its 6500 pipes, it can create real sonic splendour. There are stops that imitate flutes, oboes and clarinets, others sound like trumpets, trombones and tubas. This queen of instruments can sound very delicate or – if you pull out all the stops – truly imposing.

This week, Olivier Latry – one of the titular organists of Notre-Dame de Paris – will take his seat at the organ to play the German premiere of an organ concerto by Esa-Pekka Salonen, who is the orchestra’s Composer in Residence this season. This makes the evening more or less a dream come true. Both the organist Iveta Apkalna and Olivier Latry approached Esa-Pekka Salonen a few years ago, independently of each other, with the request for an organ concerto. Rather than disappoint one or the other, he decided to write a work for both.

The final impulse for the composition then came when Salonen was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra of the Polish Radio: “The concert hall in Katowice was getting a new organ, and I was asked if I wanted to write an organ concerto for its inauguration,” Salonen explained in an interview. “While I was still thinking about it, other orchestras approached me to be part of the commission. Then I realised how many concert halls have fantastic organs for which there is hardly any repertoire. I liked the idea of filling a real need with a work.”

Salonen was also fascinated by the idea of writing a concerto with orchestra for the organ. After all, the organ is “the only instrument that can do practically everything an orchestra can do”, says the composer. “So why compose an organ concerto that duplicates the organ’s tonal possibilities?” That was a challenge, he says, but as he himself thinks: “Challenges are good. Most of them, at least.” There is also the difficulty that with organ concerts you don’t know exactly which instrument you are composing for. After all, in the concert halls of this world, no two organs are the same, as they all have different stops and dynamic possibilities.

Esa-Pekka Salonen’s solution to this uncertainty: “First and foremost, I have to trust that the organists will make the right registration decisions.” As for the actual composition process: there Esa-Pekka Salonen follows his feelings completely and asks himself: “Does this move me? Does it stimulate me? If I find it exciting how a work develops, there’s a good chance that others will too.”

Esa-Pekka Salonen talks about his new concerto for organ

“Metamusic” with Esa-Pekka Salonen

This Saturday, Esa-Pekka Salonen will also present a Late Night concert. For this, the Composer in Residence has chosen various works, which he has entitled Metamusic. In addition to his own works, there will be pieces by Peter Maxwell Davies, Missy Mazzoli, William Byrd, Caroline Shaw, François Couperin and Johann Sebastian Bach. Members of the Berliner Philharmoniker and violinist Pekka Kuusisto will contribute to this exciting evening.

More about our Composer in Residence