esa-pekka, skype, and homunculus

The Arnica Quartet had our long-awaited (and one week postponed) coaching with composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen (with us in Portland and him in London) this morning on his intense and wonderful string quartet Homunculus. The only problem was fighting with the technology. We were set to connect via Skype, but when we connected, we found that we could get audio but no video. After a frantic 15 minutes or so of calling back and forth and trying different settings, we jettisoned Skype and went with Google Chat. The audio quality was not nearly as good as Skype, but we could at least see each other, which made the delay of the audio much easier to navigate.


We introduced ourselves and then just tore through the piece. It starts like a hand around your throat and doesn’t let go until the initial ‘scherzo’ section morphs into the more melodic ‘slow movement’ section. Everything came off quite well, and we were anxious to see what the maestro would have to say about what we brought to the piece. Fortunately, he was pleased. Interestingly enough, despite the detailed rhythmic markings throughout the piece, he was more concerned with the general tempo relationships working properly than being slavish to the provided metronome markings (we were a bit under what was marked). He seemed generally quite impressed with our performance and was interested in getting a copy of the recording of our upcoming Portland concert. He asked us what instruments we were playing, what we were working on with the Oregon Symphony this week, and asked us to give [this week’s guest conductor, fellow Finn] Hannu Lintu his best, and to buy him a beer on his behalf. Overall, it was a great experience, and he was a wonderfully gracious coach and listener, and we’re so grateful that he took the time out of his incredibly busy schedule to listen to us. It was a once in a lifetime experience!

Huge thanks to Jessica Harmer at Fidelio Arts for making this possible, along with Bob Priest who even hinted that such a thing might be possible. Grazie!



2 Replies to “esa-pekka, skype, and homunculus”

  1. We just had two very enjoyable weeks with EPS here in Chicago. He has been a fairly consistent presence as a guest each season, and now our management is beginning to get him for two-week stints. I have enjoyed him more and more as time passes. The programs are always interesting — less of the standards that any guest conductor might choose, and more driven by major 20th-century works by Bartok, Stravinsky, etc. I appreciate his attention to new music (including his own) and to lesser-known works by Sibelius.

    We have enjoyed a longstanding relationship with Pierre Boulez in various Principal Guest-type roles, and I personally hope we can go for something similar with EP in the future. He is a great musician — a composer who happens to conduct — and therefore not on the podium for attention or glamour.

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