Wing on Wing
Length: c. 27 minutes
Orchestration: 2 piccolos (1st = flute; 2nd = flute, alto flute), 2 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, E-flat clarinet, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, 3 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bell plates, bongos, congas, cowbells, crotales, glockenspiel, log drums, metal chimes, sandpaper blocks, sizzle cymbal, suspended cymbals, tam-tam, tom-toms, triangles, tubular bells, tuned gongs, vibraphone, wind machine), 2 harps, MIDI keyboard, celesta, strings, and 2 sopranos
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: June 5, 2004, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting (world premiere)
In 1822 Beethoven composed an overture, Die Weihe des Hauses (The Consecration of the House), Op. 124, for the opening of the new theater in Josefstadt. In 1971 the Finnish composer Joonas Kokkonen wrote an overture, Inauguratio, intended to be performed at the inaugural ceremony of Helsinki's Finlandia Hall. To mention that hall, in this context, is not completely out of place since it was there, in 1979, that Esa-Pekka Salonen, for the first time in his life, stood in front of a professional symphony orchestra. A quarter of a century later, in Los Angeles, he was in a position to write an homage to a concert hall ("an extraordinary building by an extraordinary man") in the making of which he was personally involved.
New concert halls deserve new music, for they are both expressions of the spirit of their time. Often, and for a good reason, inaugural music is an overture, as in the two above-mentioned cases. In some other cases, e.g. if the house is not a concert hall or if something else, such as a festival, is being opened, it also can be a fanfare. Before Wing on Wing Salonen had composed one other inaugural piece that was a fanfare. He wrote it for the first Suvisoitto (Summer Sounds) festival in Porvoo, Finland, in 1986. In this two-and-a-half minute piece, scored for a small ensemble of woodwind and brass players, the contrabass clarinet had a prominent role. When I heard Wing on Wing for the first time, I had a déjà vu (or actually a déjà entendu) experience: there it is, in the first five bars of the piece already, murmuring together with cousin contrabassoon in the midst of lush string harmonies.
Wing on Wing is neither a fanfare nor an overture. It cannot be easily assigned to any other established category of orchestral music either. The instrumentation is very peculiar. Add two high sopranos void of text and some sampled speech to a large symphony orchestra and mix. Does it make a cantata? Not quite. But it evokes rich associations with earlier music by Debussy, Sibelius, Berio, Stockhausen, Saariaho, Lindberg, Salonen, and others, in which the human voice has been used in a variety of ways. A lot of other musical images cross the mind, too. Maritime associations, fauxbourdon technique, and some scales, such as the octatonic scale with alternating whole tones and semitones, strongly point towards the French connection (Debussy, Messiaen). Introducing Porichthys notatus (Plainfin Midshipman) in the 'Cadenza' adds a new paragraph, next to George Crumb's Vox Balaenae, to the fish chapter of zoomusicology. Long pedal points, violin tremolos, and sudden brass chords in the section immediately following the 'Cadenza' strongly evoke Sibelius, as do, on the other hand, the 'storm' sections. There are few pieces in recent orchestral music that conduct a dialog with the music of the 20th century on so many levels at the same time as Wing on Wing.
Formally, Wing on Wing is something that comes close to a symphonic fantasy. In his own program notes, Esa-Pekka Salonen dissects its form in ten sections. In a more synoptic view one could say that it consists of four movements: Introduction, Scherzo I, Slow movement with Cadenza, and Finale (Scherzo II) with Coda (Stretto).
- Dr. Ilkka Oramo is Professor of Music Theory at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki.
In sailing terminology, when a sailboat opens the foresail and the mainsail to a 180-degree angle to produce the maximum amount of sail area, the beautiful sculptural constellation is called "wing on wing." Frank O. Gehry [FOG] uses that as a metaphor for the view of Walt Disney Concert Hall from the corner of Grand Avenue and First Street.
My composition Wing on Wing is, of course, not an attempt to translate architecture into music, which would be an impossible task anyway. Nor is it a musical portrait of Frank Gehry, but rather an homage to an extraordinary building by an extraordinary man. At the same time it celebrates the efforts of every man and woman whose dedication, skill, and faith made a fantastic vision into reality.
Wing on Wing uses metaphors of water and wind. I also decided to use the weird sound of a fish from the local waters of Southern California, the Plainfin Midshipman, as an instrument. (A school of fish uses this sound probably as a means of staying in formation.) Fish, of course, was FOG's unexpected move in the postmodern game of architecture. The image is beautiful, perfect, and yet completely surprising in the context of intellectual discourse.
We hear Frank's sampled (and modified) voice here and there. Sometimes we can discern words, key words in his work and life. Sometimes words become musical sounds, and they lose their intelligibility wholly or partially.
There are some other unusual colors in the score: Two coloratura sopranos join the orchestra sometimes as soloists, sometimes as instruments among others. In the beginning of the piece I pair them with the lowest-sounding woodwind instruments, the contrabassoon and the contrabass clarinet, and create a new kind of hybrid instrument, a sci-fi fantasy of a union between humans and machines.
I decided to disperse some of the sounds in the auditorium. The sopranos, some percussion, and the sampled sounds travel to different parts of the hall.
The form of Wing on Wing can be described in 10 sections:
Introduction. A chorale and a song of the two sopranos alternate, always in slightly different guises. Faster music starts to grow underneath, which leads to
Nervous figurations in the strings and woodwinds. The movement congeals into triplets and develops into a metaphor of a strong wind. A storm develops, dissolves, and disappears into nothingness.
A new beginning. Another gust of wind develops, but soon calms down to a tranquil section, where the woodwinds play melodies originally introduced by the sopranos. The layering of these melodies becomes very dense. The strings recede, and the woodwinds unite gradually into a chorale.
The sopranos return, now out in the hall. An explosion of glittering, metallic sounds. Again the music calms down, this time to a misterioso section with tremolos in the strings and fragmentary phrases in the oboes and the sopranos.
Plainfin Midshipman enters. These fish sing an E natural.
Fast movement again. Sandpaper blocks and strings spin ornaments, that develop into a
Scherzando section. The sopranos are back, now in the normal solo position on stage. Light virtuoso textures, which gradually become another gust of wind (a memory of an earlier moment).
The wind solidifies into a triplet pulse. A kind of dance develops.
The dance doubles its speed. Joy and energy. Culmination in two huge chords. The music slows down into an
Epilogue. At the very end we hear FOG, the Midshipman, and the sopranos for a last time.
Wing on Wing is dedicated to Frank Gehry, Yasuhisa Toyota, and Deborah Borda.
- Esa-Pekka Salonen is Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.