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About this Piece

Composed: 2013
Length: c. 18 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, trumpet, trombone, strings, and solo cello

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (world premiere)

Magnus Lindberg and Anssi Karttunen are long-time friends, colleagues, and performing partners. On his website, Karttunen lists 13 works by Lindberg that feature the cello, from 1978 to 2010 (not including this newest creation). Karttunen has premiered, recorded, and/or transcribed or arranged most of them. They play recitals together as Dos Coyotes, which is also the title of a piece on an Ondine CD recently nominated for a Gramophone Award in the contemporary music category.

Lindberg’s works for cello and orchestra also often involve Esa-Pekka Salonen in his conducting role. The competing disc that just won the Gramophone Award for contemporary music is a program of music by Henri Dutilleux that includes Karttunen playing that composer’s cello concerto, Tout un monde lointain, with Salonen conducting the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra for Deutsche Grammophon.

Karttunen and Salonen gave the world premiere of Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with the Orchestre de Paris, in May 1999, followed a month later by the U.S. premiere with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Ojai Festival; they repeated the Concerto here in April 2002. (Karttunen, of course, has also been closely associated with Salonen in his composing mode, playing and recording YTA III, the concerto Mania, and Sarabande per un Coyote.)

In his First Cello Concerto, Lindberg began with the soloist alone, bringing in the orchestra in subtle echoes and elaborations. He opens similarly here, in a compressed way. High and lonely, the solo cello presents the basic motif, a minor third (B – D) expanding to a perfect fourth (B-flat – E-flat), with the violas and second violins a ghostly shadow. The soloist extends the expansion with a phrase up to F-sharp that also offers plenty of pliable motivic elements, rhythmic and gestural as well as intervals and pitches.

From there the Concerto unfolds as a series of continuous variations, like a very detail-oriented passacaglia. The monster cadenza at the center of the piece is fully composed, unlike the cadenza in Lindberg’s First Cello Concerto, which was improvised, or, as Karttunen said, “left to the soloist’s (in-) discretion.” Shortly into the cadenza, Lindberg reminds us of that basic motif, as the cello oscillates between B and D in a shivery sul ponticello tremolo, suddenly highlighted by the upper orchestral strings.

The cello takes up the cadenza from that point with a passage emphasizing its low C string. After the cadenza, the pull of that low C becomes stronger, as bass lines descend toward it. At the end, the orchestral basses push past it, to low B, and Lindberg has the soloist detune quickly, to close softly on low B. With all of the motivic exuberance winnowed away, the final destiny of the manic interval expansion is revealed: a perfect fifth, B and F-sharp.

— John Henken