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About this Piece

Foreign Bodies shares some of the material of my recent piano piece Mécanisme (first movement of Dichotomie) and a choral piece Djupt i rummet (Deep in space/room). In addition, there is some completely new material, but basically the piece is a synthesis of all the thinking and new ideas I developed during my sabbatical year from conducting in 2000.

The work is scored for a very large orchestra, in fact the largest I have ever used, with quadruple woodwinds, six horns, two harps, four percussionists, and organ (!). For fairly obvious reasons, my thinking tends to be orchestral even when writing music for another medium, which makes it very natural to expand ideas in an orchestral context.

I'm endlessly fascinated by the complexities of texture, balance, timbre, and instrumental gesture; therefore the category "Kapellmeistermusik" has no pejorative meaning to me. On the contrary: I admire composers like Strauss, Mahler, Boulez, and Knussen tremendously.

As the title Foreign Bodies suggests (it actually suggests lots of things), the music is very physical in expression, almost like an imaginary scène de ballet. Also, the title refers to the fact that I feel that my 10 years in Southern California have changed me somewhat: I am less concerned about the purely cerebral aspects of music and more interested in the physical reality of the music, i.e. the sound itself, than before. Also, two decades of conducting have helped me to think in a simpler, more direct way than before.

I very much enjoy the energy and joy of my adopted hometown of Los Angeles. And yet, I feel foreign, a misplaced shy northerner amidst extroverted and confident Californians. This polarity is quite inspiring - in my worst moments I feel like some kind of a middle-aged Tonio Kröger. [Tonio Kröger is the principal character in the novella of that name by the German Nobel Prize-winning author Thomas Mann (1875-1955). Tonio endeavors to resolve within himself the conflict between art and life and ultimately realizes that art is present in the life around him.]

Foreign Bodies consists of three movements: Body Language, Language, and Dance, all played attacca, without pause.

The first movement, "Body Language," is about a constant movement of mostly very heavy masses of sound. The music slows down three times: a massive string chorale which accelerates back to the main tempo; a misterioso episode with a solo bass flute; and finally a wind chorale with gently pulsating string figures in the background brings the movement to a close.

"Language" is essentially a slow movement, very simple in its ABA form. The music starts with Palestrina-like modal counterpoint, but soon becomes harmonically richer and more complex. I'm using very unusual scordaturas (de-tuned strings) in the cellos and double basses in order to produce natural harmonics otherwise impossible. They create subtle intonation clashes with the rest of the orchestra, as the pitches follow the overtone series, thus creating an unusual color. After a sudden, violent outburst the music transforms itself into a brief dance-like episode and culminates before it is filtered back to the calm of the beginning of the movement.

The third movement, "Dance," is essentially a huge machine, which runs very smoothly until the horns introduce a triplet figure essentially in a different, slower tempo than the rest of the mechanism. This computer-virus-like foreign body takes over completely after some struggle, and the full orchestra adopts the new tempo in a 5/4-meter. I allowed myself to indulge in the full power of a large orchestra when writing the end of Foreign Bodies. In an inspired (or weak) moment late one night, I decided to add a concert organ to the strategically central moment of the brass instruments reintroducing material from the opening of the first movement, in an almost Bruckner-like fashion.

The piece was commissioned by the Finnish Radio Corporation and is dedicated to Jukka-Pekka Saraste, a close friend and a much-admired colleague. Mr. Saraste conducted the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in the work's premiere on 12 August 2001 at the Schleswig-Holstein Festival in Kiel, Germany.

- © Esa-Pekka Salonen is Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.