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Esa-Pekka Salonen

Publisher: Chester Music

Gambit (1998)
Work Notes
Dedicated to Magnus Lindberg on his 40th birthday
Chester Music Ltd
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
9 Minutes
Programme Note
Esa-Pekka Salonen Gambit (1998)
Gambit is, as the name suggests, a shortish work for a large symphony orchestra of overture character. It is based on a few gestures, or archetypes, which are combined and juxtaposed in different ways during the nine minutes of Gambit. The two main ones are a descending mainly pentatonic scale-like gesture and a basic rhythm (and combinations thereof). The archetypes themselves do not change much, only the environment in which they appear. There is no variation in the traditional sense of the word.

Some harmonic progressions as well as the persistent minor third figure in the introduction are deliberate, free quotations from Magnus Lindberg's music. I have dedicated Gambit to this talented friend of mine as an homage on his fortieth birthday.

© Esa-Pekka Salonen
Tokyo, 29th May 1998

  • Ensemble
    LA Philharmonic Orchestra / London Sinfonietta
    Dawn Upshaw, soprano / Anssi Karttunen, cello
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • Ensemble
    Avanti! Chamber Orchestra
    Esa-Pekka Salonen
  • Ensemble
    Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
    Paavo Järvi
    Presto Classical:
Although Esa-Pekka Salonen is still best known as a conductor, his reputation as a composer is growing. His short overture Gambit gleams with the confidence of an assured professional. Opening quietly in quasi-minimalist style, it expands in a dramatic wedge shape towards a powerful, percussive climax. While retaining the minimalist's active pulsation, Gambit is far more harmonically directed than is conventional for classic minimalism, and in the early stages of the piece, there is a distinctly Sibelian tinge to the wind colours and harmonies. Its steady build towards climax has a sense of luxuriating in its own sonority that lights it up from within.
Pauline Fairclough, The Guardian,27/06/2003
He [Jeffrey Kahane] began with an unusually eloquent and inspiring introduction, which included a discussion of the importance of premieres. He noted that in the time of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, virtually every selection was being heard for the first time, and audiences came ready to engage in the new. With those thoughts hanging in the air, the orchestra then plunged into what was likely the local premiere of "Gambit" (1998), a kind of mini-tone poem by Esa Pekka-Salonen, artistic director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Though less than 10 minutes long, this work packs a punch. It progresses with a definite forward thrust, but instead of having an obvious beginning, middle and end, it is more of a self-contained slice of musical time. It opens with hovering, slowly modulating chords and then it gradually picks up momentum until it reaches a fevered pitch of rhythmic agitation. Powering it from beginning to end is a barrage of percussion elements, including congas, vibraphone and miramba.
Kyle MacMillan, Denver Post,03/02/2002
An attractive, solid, well-constructed piece, but what has stayed with me more than anything is that it was not just written under the watchful eye of Stravinsky and Ligeti (as suggested by the programme note), but that Messiaen and John Adams have also added some flavour. Salonen has not escaped the fate of many composing conductors, who have difficulty breaking away from illustrious contemporaries, and one striking detail of this piece is that he has deliberately used quotations from the work of his “talented friend” and fellow student Magnus Lindberg, in honour of his 40th birthday.
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