By Dennis Polkow
Sipping on a cappuccino in his Gold Coast hotel lobby, Finnish composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen makes a startling admission: “You know, I was seriously considering stopping conducting altogether,” he says, “or at least limiting it to a minimum. I thought I should take up a teaching position at some university in this country or in Europe and just write.”
So much for the issue of whether Salonen is a composer who conducts, or a conductor who composes. “Composing is intensely non-social,” he says. “If I’ve had a long composer period and then try to go back to conducting, the first couple of days are fairly hopeless because I get so exhausted by having all these people there and having to relate to a hundred faces in front of me rather than just sitting in my studio essentially on my own. There is no way I can make that transition easier and it became so difficult, I was ready to retreat from it.
“But there’s this one thing about conducting that I really miss when I am not doing it: working together with musicians. There is that very unique sense that you have managed to focus the energy of a hundred talented, dedicated and skilled individuals and you are witnessing this focus from the box, and all the sound, feeling and energy comes out to you. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
The other reality that makes itself clear to Salonen is that he is a different composer precisely because he is a conductor. “The actual process of becoming a conductor does change you as a composer,” says Salonen, who disagrees when I point to Pierre Boulez as a possible exception in that conducting takes time away from his composing, but that what he composes remains stylistically unaltered. Read the rest of this entry »