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Composed: 1997-99; rev. 2001
Length: 25 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes (2nd = piccolo) 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons (2nd = contrabassoon), 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bass drum, bongos, Chinese cymbals, crotales, glockenspiel, maracas, marimba, mark tree, cymbals, tam-tam, temple blocks, Thai nipple gongs, tom-toms, triangle, vibraphone, wood blocks), harp, celesta, strings, and solo cello
"The New Virtuosity" is one of the many strands of musical thought that evolved from the ultra-complex serialist school based at Darmstadt, Germany, an institution at which Magnus Lindberg teaches regularly. It is music that takes full advantage of the technical prowess of today's musicians, and attempts to push their boundaries. Lindberg counts among his teachers the leading advocate of this style, British composer Brian Ferneyhough. While many a New Virtuosity proponent has had his or her score returned by a player deeming it unplayable, much of cellist Anssi Karttunen's career involves playing works filled with this kind of daring and Lindberg's Cello Concerto is no exception. With other Lindberg works like Zona for cello and ensemble (1983-1990), Stroke for solo cello (1984), and Moto for cello and piano (1988-1990), among others, it is clear that the cello has found a privileged place in Lindberg's output, thanks in large part to Karttunen. His starting point for this concerto was an intention that "every experience of interest I've had with the cello had to be integrated."
The concerto is in one uninterrupted movement and opens with the soloist unaccompanied. The orchestra is brought to life by the sounds of the cello, subtly echoing and expounding on the material that the soloist has introduced. It is as if the cello is entering a still pond and the orchestra becomes the waves of displaced water, complete with occasional splashes of cymbals played with steel brushes. The sense of pulse is obscured by capricious rhythms, often having the perception of operating simultaneously at two different "speeds."
This work behaves like a traditional concerto only in the way that there is clear imitation between soloist and orchestra, though it happens with little fragments and gestures in a fluid manner, rather than exchanges of extended phrases. The cadenza, also in concerto tradition, is improvised, "left to the soloist's (in-)discretion," in Karttunen's words "The Concerto is in five movements, each of them divided into smaller sections, all performed without break. Like in his earliest piece for cello and ensemble Zona, [Lindberg] uses the a kind of a modern version of the Baroque chaconne technique of continual variations. Thus the first movement has many sections, that have the same basic harmonic structure. Like in a kaleidoscope, the pieces are shuffled a little and the picture looks suddenly very different…the improvised cadenza acts as a bridge that changes the music, that has been very active and multi-layered into very clear shapes and classical, even romantic gestures."
Lindberg's Cello Concerto received its world premiere in June of 1999 with the Orchestre de Paris, Karttunen as soloist, and Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting. The work is dedicated to Karttunen.
— Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli is the Los Angeles Philharmonic Publications Assistant and editor/copyist of Esa-Pekka Salonen's LA Variations, among other works.