Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Second Twin Is Born in Thunder

Jim Farber on October 22, 2019
Esa-Pekka Salonen | Credit: Benjamin Suomela

Sometimes it’s difficult to deliver twins.

Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Pollux, which premiered last April with the LA Phiharmonic conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, came with the promise of a contrasting twin piece, Castor. That piece had its long-awaited premiere this past weekend in Disney Hall with Salonen conducting, paired with Tchaikovsky and Bartók concertos.

The two halves will finally be performed together next Saturday, Oct. 26, when Salonen will return to the podium of Disney Hall to conduct the world premiere of Pollux and Castor under its new mythological banner, Gemini. That performance will feature a newly composed bridge that is designed to connect the disparate twins like a musical umbilical cord. At the same time, Salonen says it’s perfectly all right to perform either of the two halves independently.

Salonen equated the Castor and Pollux myth to a compositional conundrum he was facing — a work with related themes that seemed determined to go in totally opposite directions. It reminded him of the mismatched Gemini twins in the myth, one the mortal son of the king of Sparta, the other a demigod fathered by Zeus, who seduced the king’s wife, Leda, disguised as a swan. He’s also admitted to a certain fascination for what he’s described as “a famed beauty having a penchant for large water birds.”

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts

If Pollux abounds in dark, shadowy textures and haunting wisps of melody accentuated by glissandos and glimmers — the realm of the demigods— Castor is, without question, the bringer of war, the son of Sparta on the march. 

Appropriately, the stage of Disney Hall looked like it was equipped for a symphonic siege with four Taiko drums situated in pairs (one large, the other enormous) separated on the stage like thundering battering rams.

It all begins with the pounding of those Taiko drums shaking the rafters and leading the way like Hannibal’s elephants accompanied by pealing battle horns. Much of what follows does feel like a momentous frontal assault built upon a motor-rhythmic pattern taken from a grunge tune Salonen said he heard playing in a Paris cafe.

Against the pounding and the horn calls, the strings vibrate in a flurry of rising and falling crescendos, as do the winds and the pure tone mallet instruments. A master of texture and contrast, Salonen varies the mood by pulling back on the reins and having the strings turn shadowy, producing washes of tone as the winds (particularly the paired flutes, piccolo and clarinet) provide glistening effects high above indicating the twins’ shared musical/biologic DNA.

Having to wait so long to hear Castor made it almost impossible to connect the two halves by memory. That will be solved on Oct. 26, when the Gemini are finally united.

Daniel Lozakovich

Daniel Lozakovich — Remember the Name

It’s safe to say, if you have not yet been introduced to classical music’s latest violin phenom, Daniel Lozakovich, you soon will be. Born in Stockholm in 2001 to a Belarusian father and Kyrgyz mother, Lozakovich made his concert debut at age nine in Moscow conducted by Vladimir Spivakov. This weekend he made his LA Philharmonic debut playing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35.

The last time Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto was played at Disney Hall, Patricia Kopatchinskaja blew in like a cyclone and produced an envelope-pushing performance that turned out to be the most controversial rendition of the season. People hated it or loved it. There was no middle ground.

Daniel Lozakovich’s performance Saturday filled Disney Hall with his ability to produce voluminous tone, fragile-as-air harmonics, and lightning-fast virtuosity on the ex-Baron Rothschild Stradivarius. It was big. It was dazzling. But it was also an interpretation that painted, however boldly, with traditional lines.

His performance of the first movement, Allegro moderato, was explosive including Tchaikovsky’s fully notated cadenza which had the audience as well as the Philharmonic’s musicians (particularly the first violins) transfixed. The end of the movement resulted in such a tumultuous standing ovation that Salonen finally had to turn to the house and indicate they should take their seats because there were still two movements to come.

Daniel Lozakovich in performance

Maintaining a superb balance between orchestra and soloist, the performance then glided through the second movement, Canzonetta: Andante, and without so much as a pause to breath powered into the final Allegro vivacissimo with vivacissimo to spare.

For an encore, Lozakovich offered a dulcet rendition of the Adagio from J.S. Bach’s Sonata for Solo Violin No. 1 in G Minor, during which the audience remained totally silent.

The final work on the program, the Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók from 1943, seemed the perfect bookend to Salonen’s Castor with its emphasis on pounding percussion, diverse motor rhythms, folk motives, and a touch of humor.

Throughout his career Bartók has been a major influence on Salonen as a composer and a conductor. He emphasized the contrasting elements of the work’s architecturally structural five movements. The orchestra responded to the return of their conductor emeritus with a performance that displayed all of Bartók’s sectional and solo instrumental coloration. It brought a memorable concert to a close.