Recently I have been writing at some length about the Finnish Ondine label and the generous attention it has given to the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho. However, a little over a year ago I was writing about an Ondine release of four chamber works by Magnus Lindberg; and this past Tuesday Ondine complemented that release with a new recording of three of Lindberg’s compositions for chamber orchestra. The performing ensemble is the Tapiola Sinfonietta. In a performance of Lindberg’s violin concerto, the soloist, Pekka Kuusisto, also leads the orchestra. For the other two selections, “Jubilees” and “Souvenir,” Lindberg himself conducts.
Like Saariaho, Lindberg is an alumnus of Pierre Boulez’ Institute de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (institute for acoustical-musical research and coordination, best known by the acronym IRCAM). In addition, both of them were influenced by the “acoustical-musical” approach to sonority taken by resident composers such as Gérard Grisey. However, each of them has taken those influences in a unique direction; so one is unlikely to confuse any of Lindberg’s compositions with those of Saariaho.
In the purely instrumental domain, this may reflect Lindberg having been influenced by a radically different IRCAM alumnus, Frank Zappa. Whether or not Lindberg had any direct contact with Zappa, one is quickly aware of how they show similar preferences for approaches to instrumentation, particularly where pitched percussion is involved, and energetic bursts of thick textures of counterpoint. These instances of “family resemblance” may simply be a matter of having the luxury of working with the Ensemble InterContemporain. This was a group that had been so comfortable working on the many challenging demands posed by Boulez than they were capable of performing damned near anything. Working in “Boulez’ house” thus became an inspiration to push the group’s limits even further than Boulez himself did.
“Jubilees” is a nice example of Lindberg’s work in this vein. It began as a short piece for piano composed for Boulez’ 75th birthday in 2000. Five more short pieces followed shortly thereafter. The chamber orchestra version was composed in 2002. Lindberg thought of it more as an adaptation to a new setting, rather than an orchestration. He cites, as inspiration, Maurice Ravel’s orchestral settings of music he originally composed for piano. However, while the spirit of Ravel would be far more pronounced in his later (2012) second piano concerto, the orchestral version of “Jubilees” rejects Ravel’s instrumental subtleties in favor of Zappa’s brash prankishness. That rhetoric is then explored at greater length in the 2010 “Souvenir,” composed during Lindberg’s tenure as Composer-in-Residence with the New York Philharmonic (the period when he also composed that second piano concerto).
The violin concerto, on the other hand, tends to impress the listener more through the interplay of the solo violin voice with a rich but transparent texture of many other diverse sonorities. That interplay seems to peregrinate through a variety of different rhetorical stations. The resulting discourse is, for the most part, uniquely Lindberg’s own, although there is a pentatonic motif that seems to provide yet another reflection on Western fascination with the textures of Indonesian gamelan.
Each of these pieces thus yields its own strikingly individual sonorities, providing an engaging sampling of Lindberg’s approach to working with instrumental diversity on the scale of a chamber orchestra.