Evening Concert

Pianist David Fray Plays Schumann’s Piano Concerto


Tonight at 7:00 on The Evening Concert it’s the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Former Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the group in Tchaikovsky’s “Francesca da Rimini”, Lutoslawski’s “The Spaces of Sleep” and his own “Nyx”. Also on the program, David Fray is the piano soloist in Schumann’s “Piano Concerto”.

Los Angeles Philharmonic: Lutoslawski Centenary #2
Esa-Pekka Salonen, cond.; *David Fray, piano; **Gerald Finley, baritone
SALONEN:  Nyx (West Coast Premiere)
*SCHUMANN:   Piano Concerto
**LUTOSLAWSKI:  Les espaces du sommeil
TCHAIKOVSKY:  Francesca da Rimini

Here's the Composer/conductor Salonen on his work "Nyx": Programme Note
Digital perusal score available from ScoresOnDemand

Nyx is my return to the genre of pure orchestral music since Helix (2005). It employs a large orchestra, and has exposed concertante parts for solo clarinet and the horn section.
Rather than utilizing the principle of continuous variation of material, as is the case mostly in my recent music, Nyx behaves rather differently. Its themes and ideas essentially keep their properties throughout the piece while the environment surrounding them keeps changing constantly. Mere whispers grow into roar; an intimate line of the solo clarinet becomes a slowly breathing broad melody of tutti strings at the end of the 18-minute arch of Nyx.

I set myself a particular challenge when starting the composition process, something I hadn't done earlier: to write complex counterpoint for almost one hundred musicians playing tutti at full throttle without losing clarity of the different layers and lines; something that Strauss and Mahler so perfectly mastered. Not an easy task, but a fascinating one. I leave it to the listener to judge how well I succeeded.

Nyx is a shadowy figure in Greek mythology. At the very beginning of everything there's a big mass of dark stuff called Chaos, out of which comes Gaia or Ge, the Earth, who gives birth (spontaneously!) to Uranus, the starry heaven, and Pontus, the sea. Nyx (also sometimes known as Nox) is supposed to have been another child of Gaia, along with Erebus. The union of Nyx and Erebus produces Day.
Another version says that Cronos (as Time) was there from the beginning. Chaos came from Time. Nyx was present as a sort of membrane surrounding Chaos, which had Phanes (Light) at its centre. The union of Nyx with Phanes produced Heaven & Earth.

She is an extremely nebulous figure altogether; we have no sense of her character or personality. It is this very quality that has long fascinated me and made me decide to name my new orchestral piece after her.

I’m not trying to describe this mythical goddess in any precise way musically. However, the almost constant flickering and rapid changing of textures and moods as well as a certain elusive character of many musical gestures may well be related to the subject.

I have always enjoyed the unrivalled dynamic range of a large symphony orchestra, but Nyx seems to take a somewhat new direction from my earlier orchestral music: there are many very delicate and light textures, chiaroscuro instead of details bathing in clear direct sunlight. I guess this is symptomatic of growing older as we realize there are no simple truths, no pure blacks and whites but an endless variety of half shades.

Nyx was commissioned by Radio France, the Barbican Centre, Atlanta Symphony, Carnegie Hall and the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE. It had its first performance in Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, in February 2011 in the final concert of the Festival Présences. The Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France was conducted by the composer.

Esa-Pekka Salonen

1 October, 2011     (per the composer's print-music publisher)

Les espaces du sommeil
Witold Lutosławski
Composed: 1975
Length: c. 15 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (2nd & 3rd = piccolo), 3 oboes, 3 clarinets (3rd = bass clarinet), 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (bells, bongos, cymbals, glockenspiel, marimba, side drum, tam-tam, tom-toms, vibraphone, & xylophone), harp, piano, strings, and solo baritone

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: March 3, 1983, Witold Lutosławksi conducting, with baritone John Shirley-Quirk (U.S. premiere)
“In December 1974 in Warsaw, after a recital that he had given with Sviatoslav Richter, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau asked me if I had ever composed anything for baritone,” Lutosławski wrote about the inspiration for Les espaces du sommeil. “I have always been an admirer of his and the prospect of hearing my music performed by that outstanding artist was a tremendous stimulus to me. I put aside all other work and devoted nearly the whole of 1975 to composing Les espaces du sommeil, the text being the poem by Robert Desnos.” (Fischer-Dieskau sang the premiere performance in 1978, with the composer conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.)
Desnos (1900-1945) was a protégé of André Breton, and though he ultimately broke with Breton and the other Surrealists over their embrace of Communism, at one point Breton considered Desnos the best of them all. Desnos wrote prolifically in many genres, including journalism, and his poetry has been set by many of the most prominent French composers, including Milhaud, Poulenc, and Dutilleux. Desnos was active in the Resistance during World War II; arrested by the Nazis, he was moved around several concentration camps, ending up at Theresienstadt (Terezin), where he died of typhoid fever just weeks after the camp was liberated.
Breton particularly admired Desnos for his ability in “automatic writing,” one of the Surrealists’ keen interests. Desnos proved himself a good subject for hypnotic sleep, capable of writing in a trance. For Breton, the “omnipotence of dream” was a major tenet of Surrealism and Desnos was the poet of sleep and dreams. Les espaces du sommeil (The Spaces of Sleep) is from Corps et biens, a volume of poems written between 1919 and 1929, published in 1930.
The poem, Lutosławski said, “is enchanting not only due to its structure, but, first of all, due to its content, thanks to its beauty. It is perfectly suitable for writing music. My composition is in one movement, being neither a song nor a cycle. It is a symphonic poem in which the baritone voice performs the main role. The poetic text begins with the words ‘Dans la nuit…’ (In the night…) I would like to pay attention to those words, which are repeated and have a principal role in the construction of the whole composition. It is a work about dreams, about dreams’ spaces. Equally significant are the words ‘Il y a toi’ (There is you). The form of utterance is primarily as a narration of the author about what this night contains, about the contents of dreams. The poet refers, at the same time, to the image of a woman.”

The piece opens in fluttering mystery, until the timpani emphatically sets out the primary pitch material just before the soloist comes in with a hushed threefold statement of “Dans la nuit.” After this invocation comes a scherzando section, punctuated by the “Il y a toi” motif, with its halo of horns and harp. In a ravishing adagio, the attention turns to the “you whom I await… you who remains elusive… you are the root of my dreams…,” with each section of the orchestra clearly defined with its own pitch material and articulations. Musical and textual images start to tumble ever faster, as the piece builds to a climax on the hammered declamation of “…millions and millions and millions of beings.” An orchestral interlude recovers the dream world and the baritone enters softly with a rapt chant on middle C, before descending into sleep again on the repeated word “sommeil,” sinking down to “Dans la nuit il y a toi” one last time. The work ends, however, with a sudden flash of allegro sunlight, as the poet adds, “Dans le jour aussi” (In the day also).
— John Henken (from the LA Philharmonic website)