Sunday, May 17, 2009

Overture: Salonen

I’ve been listening to more classical music lately while reading less. I’m hardly reading anything at all at the moment except for some Nietzsche and the content on various internet sites. My interest has been almost entirely devoted to contemporary classical music, the stuff even most classical lovers find tough to listen to sometimes.

Early in the twenty-first century one of the great works of classical music is definitely Helix for Orchestra by Esa-Pekka Salonen. I recently bought a lot of contemporary classical music CDs and my Helix recording is one of the newest - just produced last year. The work itself comes from 2005 which is practically yesterday in terms of the evolution of classical music. Salonen builds Helix meticulously, his use of the string section in rhythmic, almost-Wagnerian, style is bold and often commanding, and their climax in the work makes it a brilliant short orchestral piece.

A youtube video of a performance of Helix is here. But, of course, you really have to listen to it with better quality sound to fully appreciate it. The video does this piece no justice except for making it possible for me to show you what I’m talking about. These instruments make distinctly lovely, if often loud, sounds that you need to appreciate in subtlety to fully enjoy the piece. I recommend this new CD from Deutsche-Gramophone.

Helix is a rush of adrenalin. It is fresh and triumphant and whips itself into a frenzy for the audience, ending with a flare. Since getting the new CD, I’ve listened to Helix probably a dozen times already. I find it that captivating and since it runs at just under 9 minutes, repeat hearings are easy to work into both my work and leisure schedule.

To have fresh, innovative classical music being composed in our time is a wonderful part of my aesthetic life. It is exciting to experience art in the present tense. Classical music is not something that only belongs to the distant past. It is alive and vibrant and there are many paths from which an appreciative listener may choose. Salonen, who is both a noted conductor as well as composer, represents one of the best.

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