Night Voyages: Salonen’s “Insomnia” and Sibelius’ “Nightride and Sunrise”

Esa-Pekka Salonen’s 2002 orchestral tone poem, Insomnia, takes us on a haunting nocturnal voyage. The opening bars slip into a restless, looping stream of musical “thoughts” which toss and turn with prickly persistence in the woodwinds. As the piece develops, the insomniac’s obsessive mental chatter becomes a colorful tonal dreamscape which is simultaneously beautiful and disturbing. Gradually, restlessness dissolves into the serenity of near sleep in the final minutes, only to be interrupted …

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Sibelius’ “En Saga”: Mystical Landscapes

The music of Jean Sibelius evokes the rugged, desolate beauty of the Finnish landscape, the distinct cycles of darkness and light in extreme northern latitudes, and the ancient folklore of the Kalevala, the national epic of Finland. Sibelius’ music feels spacial and metaphysical. It changes our perception of time. The 1892 tone poem, En Saga (“A Fairy Tale”), does not depict a programmatic story related to the Kalevala. Instead, Sibelius described the work as an “adventure in an …

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Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony: Probing Psychological Depths

Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 4 in A minor enters a dark, austere, and occasionally terrifying sonic landscape. At first listen, it is undoubtedly the strangest and most unsettling of Sibelius’ seven symphonies. Its four movements probe frigid, mysterious depths. Yet, upon entering this forbidding territory, we are rewarded with glimpses of rugged beauty and awe-inspiring power. Sibelius called the Fourth “a psychological symphony.” It is the stuff of Expressionism, murky dreams, and …

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Remembering Camilla Wicks

The legendary American violinist Camilla Wicks has passed away. She was 92. Born in Long Beach, California to Norwegian immigrant parents, Wicks rose to prominence as a child prodigy, performing her first public concert at the age of four. By the age of eight, her repertoire included concertos of Mendelssohn, Bruch, and Paganini. When she was ten, Wicks became a student of Louis Persinger, the influential teacher who guided the careers of …

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Sibelius’ Third Symphony: Classical and Austere

Jean Sibelius’ music is filled with the magic and mystery of ancient northern woods. It can be simultaneously icy, brusk, brooding, austere, and eternally soulful. Often, it unfolds in a way which feels static and circular, seemingly influenced by Finland’s land of the midnight sun, where the cycle of day and night is replaced by extended periods of light alternating with darkness and gloom. Similar circular, repeating phrases can be found throughout Finnish folk …

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Remembering Ida Haendel

The eminent Polish-born violinist Ida Haendel passed away Tuesday at the age of 91. As a student of Carl Flesch and George Enescu, Haendel represented one of the last direct links to the distinctive and personal violin playing of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a child prodigy, she was a top prize winner in the first Henryk Wieniawski Violin Competition, where she competed against such towering figures as David Oistrakh …

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Remembering Mariss Jansons: Five Great Recordings

The internationally renowned Latvian conductor Mariss Jansons passed away on Saturday. He was 76. For years, he had dealt with a long-term heart condition. Jansons will be remembered for his tireless energy and personal warmth, his legacy as an orchestra builder, and his powerful interpretations of the music of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Strauss, and Shostakovich, among other composers. He was born in Riga, Latvia amid the German occupation of the Second World War. His …

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