The four-movement, half-hour concerto begins with a solitary violin, moves on to embrace a series of themes ranging from a quiet heartbeat to urban pop music and ends on a chord unlike any other in the work, said award director Marc Satterwhite.
“The piece is eclectic in its influences but has a distinct personality all its own,” he said.
Salonen, 53, principal conductor and artistic adviser for the Philharmonia Orchestra of London, was music director for the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 17 years. He conducted the first performance of “Violin Concerto” himself at one of his final concerts with the Los Angeles orchestra in 2009.
Leaving L.A. to devote more time to composing “felt like a seismic shift in my life, and during the composing process of ‘Violin Concerto’ I felt that I was somehow trying to sum up everything I had learned and experienced up to that point in my life as a musician,” Salonen said. “This sense of having reached a watershed was heightened by the fact that I turned 50, the kind of number that brutally wipes out any hallucinations of still being young.
“There is a strong internal, private narrative in my concerto, and it is not a coincidence that the last movement is called ‘Adieu.’ For myself, the strongest symbol of what I was going through is the very last chord of the piece; a new harmonic idea never heard before in the concerto. I saw it as a door to the next part of my life of which I didn’t know so much yet, a departure with all the thrills and fears of the unknown.”
Leila Josefowicz, an American violinist known for championing new music and with whom Salonen collaborated on a number of contemporary pieces, inspired Salonen’s winning work and played at its premiere. She and the Finnish National Radio Symphony will record the piece for commercial release in May.
Josefowicz “plays new music with the same kind of dedication and panache others reserve for Brahms, Beethoven and the rest of the gang,” Salonen said.
Salonen began conducting in 1979. He has written many orchestral works that are regularly performed and broadcast worldwide, including “LA Variations,” “Foreign Bodies,” “Wing on Wing,” “Piano Concerto” and “Nyx.”
Judges selected “Violin Concerto” for the Grawemeyer Award from among 165 entries.
UofL presents four Grawemeyer Awards each year for outstanding works in music composition, world order, psychology and education. The university and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary jointly give a fifth award in religion. This year’s awards are $100,000 each.