Typical Composing-World Disconnect

Esa-Pekka Salonen has significantly influenced the field of composition? As a conductor, I presume they mean? Or perhaps someone more au courant than myself can offer a list of Salonen-influenced composers? Or a characterization of how a Salonen-influenced piece can be recognized? Nothing against the guy, but I thought he fairly recently quit conducting to devote himself to composing, and already he’s a major influence?


  1. says

    I don’t know his music well but I have liked what I’ve heard. I’m not aware of his influence on anyone so far. Maybe this is like the Nobel Peace Prize being given to Obama, a sort of Hail Mary pass.

    KG replies: Ha! Nice analogy.

  2. says

    Maybe you should learn a little about Salonen’s composing history. It would help.

    KG replies: Such as? Having written program notes for his Gambit and decided not to vote for his Violin Concerto for the Grauwemeyer, wouldn’t I also need to know something about what composers’ music is indebted to his?Don’t just smirk, give me an example.

  3. GW says

    Salonen’s association and collaboration with his Finnish contemporaries, in particular Hämeenniemi, Kaipainen, Saariaho and Lindberg, both as a composer and as a conductor has been very influential among younger generations in Europe, particularly in developing a more exuberant and less ideologically pure and austere orchestral style, In particular, since his LA years, his advocacy for some features of recent American music, including that of John Adams has made him definitely a central figure in taking European orchestral music into its post-Ircam, post-spectralist era.

    KG replies: OK, then. Forgive my America-centricity.

  4. says

    it’s a silly position – he’s just not that influential. Salonen has helped Lindberg reach a wider audience . . sure, but to suggest that he has had any definitive influence on bringing Saariaho to the public’s attention is disingenuous. Furthermore, since when was exposure the same as influence. I thought the Nemmer’s Prize was about the individual’s voice and work – not what good they may have done to their other nation’s other composers. Perhaps this award is, after all, for sponsored entrepreneurship, as it appears.

    • MWnyc says

      Honestly, I think one of the biggest qualifications for the Nemmers prize is the time and inclination to do four residencies at Northwestern – and not all composers at the level they’re aiming for have that time and inclination. (Unfortunately, it looks to me like the Nemmers people are still looking for already-famous composers to establish the prize’s legitimacy in the public’s mind, rather than letting the size of the prize itself help establish some deserving composer’s reputation.)

      KG replies: I think your parenthesis could probably apply to every composition award ever established. But I have to add that John Luther Adams won the Nemmers, that he’s been putting out stunning major works for 25 years, and that I can attest to his tremendous influence on quite a few young composers. On the other hand, I got my Master’s and Doctorate at Northwestern, and… well, let’s leave it at that.

  5. whirr says

    I have never wanted to hear one of his compositions more than twice. And the second time was just to verify that the impression I had of the first hearing wasn’t just because I was in a bad mood or something.

    I realize it’s not fashionable to talk like this anymore, now that nothing is any better than anything else in the arts, but I just don’t think he has anything very interesting to say.

    KG replies: You take me back to the world of my youth.

  6. kea says

    One should not take the descriptions of such prizes too seriously—they are rarely awarded in practice on the basis of criteria other than connections. Certainly there have been exceptions who have slipped through over the years, but typically, if one has a respectable academic career or music directorship and writes music that is moderately interesting, moderately original and moderately effective, one will eventually get the Pulitzer or the Grawemeyer or the Siemens or whatever the latest big music award is, whereas those not part of the “in crowd” must be very exceptional indeed to win.

    If a prize could measure one’s “influence on the field of composition” John Cage and Harry Partch would have about five Pulitzers, Elliott Carter would have zero and Pierre Boulez a negative number.

  7. Jim says

    Salonen is a good composer, perhaps not a great one. His music shows post-serial influence, some Lutoslawski… a bit more lyrical than Lindberg, a bit less spectral than Saariaho. A compositional influence on the field? I don’t think he’s written enough music, and I don’t think it is performed enough by others, yet. His practical experience as a conductor and composer may be very useful for students at NW, though.