"For a Finn, I discovered Sibelius relatively late in life," says the Los Angeles Philharmonic's music director. "In my early twenties, I thought his music represented everything I disagreed with compositionally, and made a point to avoid him."
But when he stumbled upon and bought an old score of the composer's Symphony No. 7 in an antiquarian bookshop, "Suddenly it was very clear to me that this music had dimensions I had not seen at all before. I had to admit that I had only seen the surface and failed to recognize the true originality and power of Sibelius.
"I have gained a deeper understanding and admiration of his music over the years," he says, "so now seems an appropriate time to share the true originality and power of this great composer's work."
To do that sharing, Salonen and his orchestra are presenting "Sibelius Unbound," two solid weeks of the composer's symphonies, tone poems, chamber music and songs at Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A. Programmed alongside the Sibelius works will be selected pieces by other Nordic composers (Nielsen, Grieg, Prokofiev, Sallinen, Lindberg) — plus Salonen's own Wing on Wing and the world premiere of Steven Stucky's Radical Light, an L.A. Philharmonic commission whose music the composer says was inspired by Sibelius's Seventh Symphony.
The first program of "Sibelius Unbound," running tonight and through the weekend, features the composer's two most popular pieces, Finlandia and the Second Symphony, plus Salonen's Wing on Wing. Next Tuesday, Oct. 16, members of the Philharmonic perform Sibelius's string quartet, "Voces intimae," alongside quartets by Nielsen and Grieg, plus Aulis Sallinen's interestingly titled work "Some Aspects of Peltoniemi Hintrik's Funeral March."
Thursday through Sunday of next week see the Philharmonic cover four of the symphonies. The first of two programs (Oct. 18-19) features the Fourth and Seventh Symphonies as well as the premiere of Stucky's Radical Light; the second program (Oct. 20-21) includes Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 and the tone poem Pohjola's Daughter.
The symphony orchestra of the Sibelius Academy — the Helsinki conservatory that has educated most of the Finnish conductors, instrumentalists and singers who are now so successfully pouring onto the world's concert stages — joins "Sibelius Unbound" with a concert on Tuesday, Oct. 23. Salonen conducts the Lemmink‹inen Suite, along with Magnus Lindberg's Chorale and Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 5. The soloist is Juho Pohjonen, a rapidly rising young graduate of the Sibelius Academy.
For the final program of "Sibelius Unbound" in Los Angeles, on Oct. 25 and 26, Salonen conducts the Philharmonic in the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, and tenor Ben Heppner performs seven of the composer's too-little-known art songs. (The texts of the songs are in Swedish, which was Sibelius's mother tongue and is the second national language of Finland.)
After finishing "Sibelius Unbound" in Los Angeles, Salonen and the Philharmonic bring it to London and Paris. In four concerts each at the Barbican Centre (Nov 1, 2, 9 and 10) and the Salle Pleyel (Nov. 4, 5, 6 and 8), they perform virtually the entire orchestral program from the Disney Hall concerts, including the Sibelius art songs, Wing on Wing and Stucky's Radical Light. On the 9th, Londoners get a treat unavailable in L.A. and Paris, as soprano Karita Mattila joins Salonen and the Philharmonic for Quatre instants, a song cycle composed for Mattila in 2003 by Kaija Saariaho.
The Philharmonic's tour to Europe, which ends Nov. 12, also includes single concerts in Lisbon, Barcelona and Madrid.