24 years separate Salonen's first piece for solo 'cello: YTA III and knock, breathe, shine. A lot has changed in his music between the two pieces, but much remains the same - his obsession for the extreme for one. While he wrote that YTA III was "the ugliest and most violent piece" he had composed, much of knock, breathe, shine is definitely not ugly. There are many gestures in this piece that resemble a rather normal cello piece, but most of what is seemingly familiar comes in such strange context that the piece is like no other. It is as if the composer imagined a classical cello piece, twisted and turned it around until only a skeleton is left, then builds new flesh around it. In this piece one meets beautiful friends in unusual places. The fascination for virtuosity has certainly not left Esa-Pekka Salonen, again he shows what the cello could do even if the cellist has a hard time keeping up.
knock, breathe, shine has three movements. knock - like its name lets us expect - has a lot of pizzicatos of different kinds, which eventually get very mixed up, the bow getting more and more in their way. breathe is about breathing, about singing, about melodies. Singing even at altitudes with no oxygen. It is about the power of a melody. shine shows us all the brilliance of what one could do on the 'cello if one were able to play it while sitting on a roller coaster.
The title "knock, breathe, shine" comes from the 14th sonnet by John Donne (1572-1631). While the title seems to describe the music to the letter, it was chosen well after the piece was finished, therefore the piece is not descriptive.
Anssi Karttunen 2011