The Kennedy Center

Violin Concerto

About the Work

Magnus Lindberg Composer: Magnus Lindberg
© Peter Laki

Magnus Lindberg's Violin Concerto was first performed, of all places, at the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York City-a fact that is not without deeper significance, as it emphasizes the continuity in the world of music between the old classics and contemporary creations.  Not only did old and new works complement one another at the festival concerts, but the author of the new work, conscious of the context in which it would be performed, must have composed with that context in mind.

In his concerto, Lindberg used a Mozartian orchestra, forgoing the large ensembles one often finds in music of our time.  He also preserved several hallmarks of the traditional concerto:  the three-movement layout is clearly recognizable (even though the movements are played without pause), and a virtuoso cadenza occurs at a crucial moment (here just before the finale).  Traces of classical movement characters, such as a brooding opening, a more dramatic centerpiece and a more light-hearted, dance-like conclusion, also shine through in Lindberg's work.

The history of any concerto typically begins with an encounter between a composer and a soloist.  In this case, the performer who provided the primary inspiration was Lisa Batiashvili, a native of the Republic of Georgia who first came to Lindberg's attention when, at the age of sixteen, she was a prize-winner at the Sibelius Violin Competition in Helsinki (playing, of course, Sibelius's Violin Concerto).  It was the violinist who first approached the composer with the suggestion of a new concerto, although the idea took about a decade to materialize.  When it finally did, one critic heard in it a "Sibelius-like sense of radiating light and excited affirmation," and called the work "a complex showpiece that scorches its way on to the platform." 

The concerto opens with an expressive melody played in the upper register of the violin.  Much of the thematic material of the entire piece derives from these first few notes, although a second idea, which sounds like a quote from Sibelius, comes to play an equally important role.  Such allusions to the old master of Finnish music are not coincidental in Lindberg's more recent work, where the Sibelius influence is getting increasingly noticeable.  One hundred and three years after the Sibelius Concerto, Magnus Lindberg created a companion to this masterpiece that is a worthy successor in every respect.