I have always been interested in virtuosity. There is a very strange kind of beauty in the idea of a performer doing extremely difficult things for other people to enjoy.
The best kind of virtuoso is a musician, who is willing to go to places nobody has gone before; a virtuoso of mind as well as fingers.
Most of my instrumental music is about challenging fellow performers, sometimes pushing them to their physical (or mental) limits, but always with respect and empathy. The best thing about conducting to me (apart from the music itself) is the thrill of sensing the energy of talented and dedicated people on stage. When composing, I try to imagine that particular kind of radiation, especially when the lonely existence in my studio feels frustratingly slow and devoid of adrenaline, which performers of course enjoy sometimes more than they’d wish.
Mania was written for Anssi Karttunen, a close fiend and a much admired colleague, whom I have known since the distant days of playing the first horn in my early teens in the Junior Orchestra of the Sibelius Academy, where Anssi was the solo cellist.
In the late eighties I wrote a short solo piece for him, YTA III, which is still the most extreme piece of music I’ve composed: bizarre and violent, very ugly, but a virtuoso vehicle nevertheless.
In the spring of 2000 I finally decided to write a concertante piece for Anssi and a small orchestra, a plan I had had for a decade or so. I wanted to compose music, which consists of a number of relatively simple gestures or archetypes, which are constantly evolving and changing; not so much through traditional variation techniques, but trough a kind of metamorphosis. A maggot becomes a cocoon, which becomes a butterfly: very different gestalts indeed, but the DNA is the same.
Mania is about movement that never stops. The tempo fluctuates between extremes, gestures become other gestures. Transitions are quite often seamless, telescopic (NB not telescopical): a new thing starts before the previous one has ended. (Not entirely coincidentally, this is the main formal principle in the late works of Sibelius, especially in the Seventh Symphony and Tapiola.)
The role of the cello varies from a clear solo/accompaniment situation to merely being a part of a chamber ensemble - and all the shades between these extremes. Therefore, Mania has little to do with a traditional concerto form.
© Esa-Pekka Salonen, 2000
The basic pattern of the piece was ceaseless movement. The cello was constantly called upon to separate itself from the ensemble through dense areas of sound, frequently broken meters, and colliding fragments of melody. Such a fragile and delicate relationship between the solo instrument and the orchestra can only be carried off by someone who has studied the anatomy of the orchestral sound in all its nuances and captured it in his imagination.
Salonen is a skilful dramatist who masters the sustained tension in such a way that even his colleagues from the movie industry must be peering in wonder at this Finn.
Manfred Müller, Kölnische Rundschau, 04/03/2005
...in terms of style it can be placed somewhere between Jean Sibelius and the minimalist American artist John Adams. Salonen, however, is very original in the way he treats these influences. The Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen, who has been a close friend of the composer and conductor for many years, handled the demanding task with bravura of lifting the highly virtuoso part out over the excited orchestra.
Bernhard Hartmann, General-Anzeiger Bonn, 04/03/2005
'Esa-Pekka Salonen: A Conductor's Night of Firsts'
Esa-Pekka Salonen, the dynamic 42-year- old conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is also an active composer. Indeed, until his late 20's he considered himself a composer who conducted on occasion.
New Yorkers had lacked many opportunities to experience Mr. Salonen as a composer until Sunday night, when he was the featured composer in Carnegie Hall's Making Music series. Before a full house at Weill Recital Hall, Mr. Salonen spoke about his compositions with Ara Guzelimian, the series moderator, and conducted some of his recent works, all in their New York or United States premieres, with the impressive contemporary music group Ensemble Sospeso. ...
...That Mr. Salonen can write distinctive music was clear, though, from "Mania," a kind of concerto for cello and chamber ensemble, complete with marimba, gongs, piano and aggressive brass and winds. The swift pace and wild mood swings allow no wallowing in any one idea. Meters get fractured; instrumental lines dart and collide; the harmonic language is piercing and full of surprises; and the virtuosic writing for cello, formidably played by Anssi Karttunen, lurches between anguished lyricism and fits of anger.
Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, 19/12/2000
Mania, for solo cello and ensemble, heard in its US premiere, was the densest and busiest work of the evening, and pitted a furiously active cello part against individual ensemble instruments, or the whole gang together. Soloist Anssi Karttunen carried the day, from the lovely forest murmurs at the beginning through sections of blunt aggressiveness, to a mad, manic finish…the full house gave soloist and composer a rousing response.
Shirley Fleming, MusicalAmerica.com, 01/12/2000