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Wing on Wing
Ensemble Detail(s)
Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Anu Komsi and Piia Komsi (sopranos)
Label name
Deutsche Grammophon
Conductor details
Esa-Pekka Salonen

Work Title


It's tough finding time to compose if you remain a charismatic conductor on the international scene and music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. That's the dilemma facing Finnish-born Esa-Pekka Salonen. Still, he's found a way. The three compelling works here were written since 2001. "Foreign Bodies" is full of bustling brass, scampering winds and a jittery rhythmic thrust that recalls Stravinsky. Written for mammoth forces, the music is brilliantly scored; solo passages and combinations sound back-lit for dramatic effect. "Wing on Wing" creates a celestial shimmer with two intertwining sopranos and pre-recorded spoken words. The impact is haunting, though the end is a rush of virtuoso excitement, played here with thrilling enthusiasm by Finnish Radio Symphony. "Insomnia" is inspired tone-painting: flickering bits of restlessness merge with hazy and surreal dreamscapes.
Mark Stryker, Detroit Free Press, 3/8/2005

The image of Frank Gehry's gleaming Walt Disney Concert Hall aptly adorns this latest orchestral disc from the pen and baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen, a former modernist whose music has more recently acquired a dazzling surface to match that of his orchestra's new home. Foreign Bodies, a bold three-movement showpiece scored for an extravagent orchestra, is clearly the work of a conductor in love with the visceral thrill of music-making. Replete with propulsive polyrhythms and carefully shaded instrumental colours, its violin swirls and brassy trills may even put you in mind of Korngold in Hollywood mode, while the influence of fellow Californian resident John Adams is clear. That said, the music has a more indivdualized character than some of Salonen's earlier essays in this vein. A slow central movement and a moto perpetuo finale showcase his skill in engineering exciting climaxes ... few will be unmoved by the sheer exuberant physicality of it all. There is rather less physicality in Wing on Wing, an orchestral fantasia composed for the opening of Disney Hall. Here, the mood is one of transcendental rapture, epitomized by harmonic stasis and the wordless ululations of two solo sopranos. This is post-modernism at its most American and optimistic, its raw materials gleefully applied to the game of art. The programme is completed by Insomnia, a set of nocturnal variations depicting a sequence of dreamscapes. The piece is generally darker and deeper than you might expect, with a quartet of Wagner tubas in the brass section, but it still takes in a bravura sunrise.
David Gutman, International Record Review, 5/1/2005

Esa-Pekka Salonen is far more than a virtuoso conductor who composes. As these three works reveal, the gorgeous or scintillating orchestration is only one of the features that make this music so memorable and instantly appealing. Foreign Bodies is also strongly argued, bursting with energy and full of the kind of ravishing sound-vistas that makes one want to go back and indulge again and again ... in Wing on Wing, the sound of the two wordless sopranos weaving in and out of lush orchestral textures is unforgettable. Most impressive is the darker, nervy Insomnia, a work that grows from its pregnant opening figures as surely as Sibelius, and at times explores similar haunted territory - though it rarely actually resembles the Finnish master (apart from a strong, telling hint of Nightride and Sunrise). Echoes of Reich, Adams and the later Lutoslawski can be heard, but they're completely digested into Salonen's overall style. The performances are stunning (no need to doubt Salonen's credentials as his own interpreter), as are the recordings, which manage to capture a welter of detail without unbalancing the overall sound picture. Recommended.
Stephen Johnson, BBC Music Magazine, 6/1/2005

The past few years have seen Esa-Pekka Salonen take his place as one of the major composers of our time - an ascendancy made all the more remarkable by the fact that he's done it while holding down a day job as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His control of large-scale structure, his fecund melodic imagination and wit, and especially his command of a range of orchestral color and texture are striking to behold, and the results are endlessly fascinating. The point is driven home with this magnificent new disc featuring world premiere recordings of three major orchestral works, all composed in this century. 'Foreign Bodies', a gripping if oddly proportioned triptych, revels in the sheer physical force of the orchestra, bouncing large blocks of sound around with infectious gusto. 'Insomnia', which Salonen conducted with the San Francisco Symphony last season, is a dark tone poem in which swirling subliminal strains lurk beneath the surface rhetoric. Most powerful, for my money, is 'Wing on Wing', and intoxicating soundscape, written in celebration of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, that combines distinctively mechanistic orchestral timbres, taped sounds and the wordless keening of sister sopranos Anu and Piia Komsi into an elusive and beautiful whole.
Joshua Kosman, The San Francisco Chronicle, 3/13/2005

'The 13 years that Esa-Pekka Salonen has spent in Southern California have confirmed him in his view that music, or, rather, sound first and foremost leads a physical, rather than intellectual or mental existence.' The immediate sensory impact of these three scores, written between 2001 and 2004, bears out the booklet's claim. [In Foreign Bodies] the short finale - 'Dance' - works best, with some effective rhythmic cross-cutting. There's the 26-minute Wing on Wing, written for the opening of the LAPO's new base, the Walt Disney Concert Hall, in June 2004. Understatement was clearly not an option, and Salonen's overblown hymn of praise aims to celebrate 'a fusion between instrument and body, nature and technology'. The voice of architecht Frank Gehry is electronically treated to produce mysterious, oracular sounds, and a pair of wordless sopranos soar ecstatically above saturated post-Messiaen chorales, in tribute to the imagery of wings and sails which link Gehry's building to the nearby Pacific Ocean. The Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra play magnificently. If you like your music to be 'first and foremost physical', this disc will not disappoint.
Arnold Whitall, The Gramophone, 7/1/2005

iTunes offers his new DG collection, Wing on Wing, in which he features as composer and conductor, as a download complete with a very attractive bonus track. For a few dollars, you can acquire a fine performance of the 17-minute Dichotomie played by a regular Salonen collaborator, the pianist Yefim Bronfman. It's a two movement work whose opening section, 'M├ęcanisme', conjures up a vivid, hyperactive world, maybe hinting at a kind of frenetic movement that a 'humanised' (and humourous) machine might make. The second movement, 'Organisme', has an intreguing shape, a surface of quick movement overlaying a much slower, much more organic pulse (perhaps breathing?). This is one of the most attractive bonus items yet offered on iTunes.
James Jolly, The Gramophone, 7/1/2005

Not surprisingly for a musician perpetually studying and conducting orchestral scores, Salonen's music uses the symphony orchestra's full resources. Both Foreign Bodies and Insomnia are communicative and accessible; sonorities are thrilling, immediate and kaleidoscopic. Insomnia vividly suggests a state of unrest and, at the outset, an engaging soundworld mixing Sibelius and Stravinsky. Music that is frenzied and fantastical takes over and delirium is sustained for a considerable period until Tristan-like chords bring a false calm. Foreign Bodies is more quixotic and nods to John Adams. It's an arresting, energetic and intense work, cool at its midpoint, employing a diverse and intriguing palette of sound. The performances and recording quality are stunning.
Colin Anderson, MUSO Magazine, 6/1/2005

Esa-Pekka Salonen's musical language is growing steadily richer and more expressive; the things he has to say with it are growing deeper, too. And the limitless confidence of his writing for orchestra brings that special thrill of something being done supremely well. Foreign Bodies, written for a generously appointed orchestra in 2001, is a glorious three-part bacchanal, a riot of action and colour, a marriage of Sibelian symphonic impulse with the ritualist rhythms of the West Coast minimalists. The basic premise of Insomnia (2002) is that of a 19th-century symphonic poem, the depiction of the artist's inner moods, on this occasion the competing thoughts (musical ideas) that run through the mind during a sleepness night; the work culminated in a glorious sunrise. The energy here is less relentlessly physical than that which powers Foreign Bodies but it courses through Insomnia nonetheless. In Wing on Wing (2004), at 26 minutes the longest work here, Salonen is joined by the two Komsi sisters, vocalising to striking atmospheric effect, and by the sampled voice of Frank Gehry, the architect of the Walt Disney Concert hall in Los Angeles. Salonen writes that by pairing the voices of the two sopranos with contrabassoon and contrabass clarinet at the outset, he wanted to 'create a new kind of hybrid instrument, a sci-fi fantasy of a union between humans and machines' - and even if I'm not sure he has a harmonic footprint yet, that instrumental alertness already gives his music a distinct flavour. These first recordings - conducted, of course, by the composer - are breathtakingly assured, and DG has given him demonstration-quality recorded sound.
Martin Anderson, Finnish Music Quarterly, 10/1/2005

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