Helix 2005 | 9 mins
When a commissioning party asks Esa-Pekka Salonen to write a short concert opener, they know they are guaranteed something out of the ordinary—and something that will provide the orchestra and audience alike with a thrilling musical experience. Within its brief timespan, Helix offers a glimpse into the orchestral sonic universe of this composer, manifesting both mastery of technique and untrammeled imagination. Helix integrates a remarkable palette of colors with an original formal design. Corresponding to the title he chose, Salonen describes that form as “a spiral or a coil; or, more academically, a curve that lies on a cone and makes a constant angle with the straight lines parallel to the base of the cone.” The form and process of the piece are the same: a virtuoso study in gradually accelerated speed—or, as the composer puts it, “a nine-minute accelerando.”
Violin Concerto No. 2 1967 | 32 mins
SFS Concertmaster and soloist Alexander Barantschik says: “Shostakovich wrote two violin concertos, both dedicated to the great violinist David Oistrakh. The composer used material throughout the work that twists street songs, folk songs, and melodies from Oistrakh’s birthplace of Odessa, on the Black Sea. LISTEN FOR: There was a large Jewish population there, and one of the melodies that Shostakovich picks up in this concerto is a cry in Yiddish from a vendor selling bagels! It so genuinely depicts the atmosphere of Odessa. It isn’t your typical classical phrasing or sound, and it leans more toward folk fiddling than an academic concerto. I like it!”
Symphony No. 1 1876 | 45 mins
Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann—compared to Johannes Brahms, they had barely left school when they launched their symphonic careers. Brahms saw those forebears as examples, inspiring and intimidating. For years he remained determined to join their league, to harness the orchestra as they had and add his name to the historic line they represented. By the time he pulled it off with the premiere of his First Symphony, he was already forty-two. Brahms announces his arrival as a symphonist with an outburst of dissonance by full orchestra over pounding timpani. We know we are in the presence of something that demands attention. This is an incredible work with monumental emotional and sonic ebbs and flows. With the last flourish Brahms closes a symphony so long in the making and so inexhaustible in its power to thrill and transport.
Jeanette Yu is Director of Publications at the San Francisco Symphony.