The Grawemeyer Awards are five annual prizes given in the fields of music, political science, psychology, education and religion. They were founded by H. Charles Grawemeyer to help make the world a better place.
The Prize for Music Composition goes to Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto. Read a review of it's premiere here, first performed in LA in 2009.
Listen to an interview host John Clare had with the Director of the Music Panel, Marc Satterwhite from the University of Louisville, about how the awards are decided, a little history and an official announcement: mp3 file
Salonen wrote these notes about the concerto:
I wrote my Violin Concerto between June 2008 and March 2009. Nine months, the length of human gestation, a beautiful coincidence.
I decided to cover as wide a range of expression as I could imagine over the four movements of the Concerto: from the virtuosic and flashy to the aggressive and brutal, from the meditative and static to the nostalgic and autumnal. Leila Josefowicz turned out to be a fantastic partner in this process. She knows no limits, she knows no fear, and she was constantly encouraging me to go to places I was not sure I would dare to go. As a result of that process, this Concerto is as much a portrait of her as it is my more private narrative, a kind of summary of my experiences as a musician and a human being at the watershed age of 50.
The violin starts alone, as if the music had been going on for some time already. Very light bell-like sounds comment on the virtuosic line here and there. Suddenly we zoom in to maximum magnification: the open strings of the violin continue their resonance, but amplified; the light playfulness has been replaced by an extreme close-up of the strings, now played by the cellos and basses; the sound is dark and resonant.
Zoom out again, and back in after a while. The third close-up leads into a recitative. Solo violin is playing an embellished melodic line that leads into some impossibly fast music. I zoom out once again at the very end, this time straight up in the air. The violin follows.
Finally all movement stops on the note D, which leads to…
All is quiet, static. I imagined a room, silent: all you can hear is the heartbeat of the person next to you in bed, sound asleep. You cannot sleep, but there is no angst, just some gentle, diffuse thoughts on your mind. Finally the first rays of the sun can be seen through the curtains, here represented by the flutes.
The pulse is no longer a heartbeat. This music is bizarre and urban, heavily leaning towards popular culture with traces of (synthetic) folk music. The violin is pushed to its very limits physically. Something very Californian in all this. Hooray for freedom of expression. And thank you, guys!
This is not a specific farewell to anything in particular. It is more related to the very basic process of nature, of something coming to an end and something new being born out of the old. Of course this music has a strong element of nostalgia, and some of the short outbursts of the full orchestra are almost violent, but I tried to illuminate the harmony from within. Not with big gestures, but with light.
When I had written the very last chord of the piece I felt confused: why does the last chord – and only that – sound completely different from all other harmony of the piece? As if it belonged to a different composition.
Now I believe I have the answer. That chord is a beginning of something new.
Alex Ross wrote this in the New Yorker:
...Salonen offered a big new work of his own: the Violin Concerto, written for the fearless young virtuoso Leila Josefowicz. When Salonen announced that he was giving up the Los Angeles job, he said that he wanted to devote more time to composing, and the strength of his latest pieces suggests that he has not made a foolish choice. (His other conducting gig, at the Philharmonia Orchestra, in London, takes less of his time.) Salonen the composer is more openly expressive than Salonen the conductor...
Anthony Tommasini wrote this in the NY Times about Salonen's Violin Concerto:
In a program note about his new Violin concerto, a 30-minute work for in four movements, he writes that it is in some ways a "summary of my experiances as a musician and a human being at the watershed age of 50." If that sounds like a big agenda for one piece, the concerto comes across as a rhapsodic, inspired and restless work, too immediate to weigh down listeners with philosophical musings.
Josefowicz has a rich history with Salonen, here she is playing part of a solo violin work, Lachen verlernt, Salonen wrote for her:
You can see a list of previous Grawemeyer Composition winners here.