by Esa-Pekka Salonen

Palindromes, fanfares, and clouds for orchestra

(To celebrate 20 years of Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall)

Empty sheet

Esa-Pekka Salonen


Chester Music


Tiu is a Finnish version of the arcane Nordic word meaning twenty (tjog in Swedish). In more recent times it has mainly been used for counting eggs, best translated into English as score.

In this case, the number twenty refers to two things: the 20th anniversary of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the twenty chords presented in the beginning of the piece, all sharing the note C. The distance between those chords starts from twenty beats and gets compressed until the value of zero has been reached.

Twenty years ago, when I was writing Wing on Wing for the first season in the new hall, I came to understand that while music and architecture are closely related, they are fundamentally different. Music has its timeline: the relentless, objective causality chain that the composer, the performers, and the audience are bound to. In architecture, the timeline is created by the observer, the person in the space, by their movement through the space. In a live musical performance, you can't go backwards, every moment that has passed is gone forever. Obviously, this is not the case in architectural spaces.

In Tiu I developed a few musical ideas and structures based on those thoughts on a purely metaphorical level. The concept of moving backwards, so easy in a physical space, so impossible in music, made me think of palindromes: phrases or sequences that read the same backward as forward. (The longest palindrome in everyday use is the Finnish word for soapstone vendor, saippuakivikauppias, according to Guinness World Records. We must take the idea of everyday use with a pinch of salt here.)

In Tiu there are two palindromic structures. The gradually contracting and accelerating introduction returns as its palindrome later, this time in a stable, fast tempo. The long ritardando that follows the introduction comes back as accelerando. Palindromes have been used in composition for centuries, sometimes called retrograde. Retrogrades are often hidden, i.e., we don't perceive them as such because of the brain’s limited capacity for realtime calculation. In Tiu, the palindromes are clearly audible (I hope), as the material is quite simple, and the processes perfectly linear.

There are fleeting fanfare-like motives in Tiu, which appear and disappear like mirages as the 12-minute piece unfolds. The epilogue with three trumpets dispersed in the auditorium is another take on the fanfare archetype: the slow and stately kind.

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Here’s a brief roadmap to the six sections of Tiu:

1. Introduction. The twenty chords are presented on top of a low C pedal tone.

2. Dance-like fast music that almost immediately starts slowing down. At the slowest point the music transforms itself to

3. A cloud under which we hear a slow, deep melody. That melody will come back later.

4. We hear a palindrome version of No. 2. A slow line in the Alto Flute gathers speed and power until maximum velocity and double fortissimo has been reached. A virtuoso passage in the violins leads to

5. Palindrome of No. 1, the Introduction. We hear the same twenty chords, but in reverse order. This time, the tempo remains stable. Timpani and drums get locked into a mantra rhythm, two beats in time of five, over which

6. Three trumpets in the auditorium start a solemn fanfare, a memory of the bass line in No. 3. Another cloud forms above the trumpets. Four piccolos and three Glockenspiels could represent twinkling of the stars in the night sky - or reflections of light on the metal surface of Walt Disney Concert Hall at sunset. The piece ends with a dark, nostalgic phrase in the low strings.

Why such a nostalgic ending to a piece that is celebratory in its nature? I'm not absolutely sure myself, but I know that the months and weeks leading to the opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the inaugural concerts are among my most cherished memories. Every time I return to LA and see the glorious building that hasn’t aged one bit in twenty years, I'm filled with gratitude and pride for having been part of something bigger than the sum of its parts.

Esa-Pekka Salonen



4333 4331 13 1, cel, org, str


Works for Orchestra or Large Ensemble


Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen, cond. October 27, 2023, Los Angeles

Commisioned by / dedications

Commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and Gustavo Dudamel, Music and Artistic Director

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