Conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen opens an old French book of fairy tales and conjures up characters woven into music by Maurice Ravel. So welcome Sleeping Beauty, Little Tom Thumb, the Empress of the Pagodas, and the Beauty and the Beast!
Having grown up surrounded by the sounds of water in a rural Chinese village, composer Tan Dun weaves his memories into his music: water is a source of joy, cleanliness, play and nourishment. The phenomenal Colin Currie joins the orchestra to interpret his percussion concerto.
Esa-Pekka Salonen is known as both a composer and conductor and is currently the Principal Conductor & Artistic Advisor for London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. He is the Music Director Designate of the San Francisco Symphony; the 2020-21 season will be his first as Music Director. He is Artist in Association at the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. He is the Conductor Laureate for both the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he was Music Director from 1992 until 2009. Salonen co-founded—and from 2003 until 2018 served as the Artistic Director for—the annual Baltic Sea Festival, which invites celebrated artists to promote unity and ecological awareness among the countries around the Baltic Sea.
Salonen last conducted the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in 2010 during the Baltic Sea Festival in Stockholm.
Nowadays best known as an ambassador for contemporary music, Colin Currie (b. 1976) comes from Scotland and was brought up on a diet of Bach and Mozart. Until one day, in his teens, he heard Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and life was never the same again. In 1994 he was the first percussionist to win the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year title and has thereafter made a name for himself as a charismatic percussionist wizard, premiering works by many contemporary composers.
Currie’s discography includes the Grammy Award-winning CD of Einojuhani Rautavaara’s Incantations with the HPO and John Storgårds (2012) and the CD of the Percussion Concerto by Jennifer Higdon with the London Philharmonic and Marin Alsop (2010).
Tan Dun: Water Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra
“To me, my early life, living with water, having fun with water, and playing ritualistic music with water, has become very inspiring,” says Tan Dun (b. 1957). He composed his Water Concerto in 1998. “In Hunan [where he grew up], water was a daily thing with our life. Every day we washed everything with the river. All the old women, they always went to the river for laundry. So I transpose those memories of beautiful laundry sounds, and swimming sounds, body popping sounds, water dancing sounds, water teasing sounds, water popping sound, into my orchestrations.
“What I want to present… is music that is for listening to in a visual way, and watching in an audio way. I want it to be intoxicating. And I hope some people will listen and rediscover life’s elements, things that are around us but we don’t notice.”
Tan Dun is one of the few Chinese composers of Western-style music and all in all one of today’s most highly-acclaimed composers worldwide. His music further acquired an element of American modernism when he moved to New York in 1986.
Maurice Ravel: Ma mère l’Oye
Ma mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) by Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) draws on well-known age-old folk tales. It was originally a suite in five movements for piano four hands dedicated to a friend’s two children but Ravel later expanded it into a half-hour ballet by orchestrating it and adding a prelude and interludes. Like the stories on which it is based, Mother Goose has become a classic.
The prelude leads us into an enchanted garden, giving us glimpses of the characters we are about to meet. The first is the Sleeping Beauty: we see her prick her finger on the spinning wheel and fall into a hundred-year sleep (scenes 1 & 2). Scene 3 presents the dialogues between Beauty and the Beast, who turns out to be a handsome prince in disguise. Scene 4 features Little Tom Thumb, who gets lost in the forest because the birds have eaten the crumbs he sprinkled along the path to show him the way home. Scene 5, the climax of the ballet, is based on the story of Laideronette, a pretty little girl who gets turned into an ugly one but breaks the spell and becomes pretty again as the Empress of the Pagodas (not temples but little porcelain figures). A trumpet calls us back to the enchanted garden. It is morning, the birds are singing and the Prince has come to wake the Sleeping Beauty with his kiss. Our journey in the land of dreams has ended.