The 2012 Grawemeyer Award in Context

November 29, 2011

As a young horn virtuoso in Finland, Esa-Pekka Salonen decided that his true path must be that of a composer. In an interview back in the 1990s, he told me that he quickly became dissatisfied with performances that his compositions were receiving; and, having laid down his horn permanently, he took up the baton as a way of making sure that his works were performed to his own satisfaction. The unbidden success that he found as a conductor led, without his intending it, to the stratospheric heights in that field that we all know about.

Now, on receiving the most prestigious composition laurel there is, he makes this interesting statement (via Twitter):

“The beautiful thing about our kind of music (unfortunately called classical) is continuity: never felt more grateful to my mentors & heroes.”

I think that gets it about right. Not that other kinds of music don’t have continuity; but is it not true that the “we” he is talking about feel a more conscious, almost measurable, connection with even our most remote documented forebears? Except in the most extreme, purposely disconnected individual musicians (whose chances of communication with a public are scant), we exist in light of a tradition. Even the most innovative developments have their effect against an inescapable backdrop — a backdrop that carries with it the joys, sorrows, aspirations, despair, consolations, misery, frolics, and dirges of countless generations.

And this should make us very happy.

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