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Composed: 2019

Length: c. 12 minutes

Orchestration: 3 flutes (3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets (3rd = bass clarinet), contrabass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 timpani, percussion (glockenspiel, vibraphone, 2 bass drums, marimba, 3 gongs, 5 temple blocks, maracas), harp, piano (= celesta), and strings

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: October 18, 2019, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting

About this Piece

During the composition process of Pollux, I encountered a strange problem: my material seemed to want to grow in two completely opposite directions. Finally, I realized that these very different musical identities (I had referred to them as brothers in my sketches) would not fit into one cohesive formal unit, a single piece. They simply couldn’t coexist.

This made me think of the myth of the non-identical twins Castor and Pollux who share half of their DNA, but have some extreme phenotype differences, and experience dramatically different fates.

In the Greco-Roman mythology, Pollux was immortal, as he was fathered by Zeus. Castor was mortal, as he was sired by Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, although his status changed post-mortem.

The mother of both was Leda, who while being already pregnant by her husband had a tryst with Zeus, who seduced her in the form of a swan. (There’s something intriguing in the idea of this famed beauty having a penchant for large water birds.)

My solution was to write two independent but genetically linked orchestral works. Pollux, slow and quite dark in expression, was the first of them. Castor, extroverted and mostly fast, has now followed.

— Esa-Pekka Salonen