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Paul E. Robinson
La Scena Musicale, November 2009

Like so many other music festivals the Verbier Festival in Switzerland brings together some of the most talented young musicians to form an orchestra and invites well-known conductors to lead them. On July 26, 2007, Esa-Pekka Salonen was on the podium and I’ll bet those kids will remember the occasion for the rest of their lives. For here was a great Finnish maestro conducting the music of his most famous countryman in an absolutely authoritative and spell-binding performance, and for good measure introducing the young musicians to his own music.

Salonen recently completed a hugely successful tenure heading the Los Angeles Philharmonic but he is barely into middle age, with many productive years ahead of him both as a conductor and a composer. His LA Variations is original and engrossing from beginning to end. Salonen constantly finds new sonorities and, unlike many contemporary composers, has no trouble creating music in quick tempo and music with a sense
of humour. The UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra played the piece brilliantly.

Salonen has special insight into Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony. Without underplaying the romantic tunes, he uncovers the complexity of the symphonic construction and generates a fearsome energy that reminds us that this music was contemporary with Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Ravel when it was composed in 1915.

Doyle Armbrust
Time Out Chicago, August 2009

The Finnish composer-conductor’s “L.A. Variations” has become a regular fixture in concert halls, and the young talents of the Verbier Festival Orchestra bring an impressive vigor to maneuver through a decidedly demanding score, with its on-a-dime rhythmic vectors and dense chord structures.

What makes this production worthwhile as a DVD is Salonen’s remarkable interaction with his musicians. The 51-year-old is clearly relaxing from his stint in Switzerland: At the conclusion of a stratospherically high double-bass solo, Salonen and his principal hazard a smile, and he’s seen grinning through the entirety of an especially gnarly contrabassoon solo.

Passages of “L.A. Variations” wouldn’t be out of place in a Hitchcock nightmare or getaway scene, but it’s thankfully never in danger of sounding like Hollywood-soundtrack pastiche. Fellow Finn Jean Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony makes the perfect complement: Both men explore a sonic landscape of blurred edges and giant, cascading washes of sound. The closing measures of the Fifth’s “Finale” can often sound abrupt—arresting, unison chords followed by caverns of silence—but Salonen imbues his countryman’s off-beat ending with pace and potency. This is required viewing…

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11:02:03 PM, 2 August 2015
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