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Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No. 3 premiered by Yuja Wang, the SFSO and Salonen

by Jari Kallio

Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was recently premiered by Yuja Wang and the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The concerto is a virtuoso affair, writes Jari Kallio.

Given in its eagerly awaited world premiere performances by Yuja Wang, the San Francisco Symphony and Music Director Esa-Pekka SalonenMagnus Lindberg’s outstanding Piano Concerto No. 3 (2020-22) is on its way to become a repertory item. The new concerto fuses together the composer’s virtuosic grasp of the musical form, exuberantly pianistic writing and riveting orchestral mastery, giving rise to a thirty-minute score of special magnificence. 

Although cast in three movements, the concerto does not follow the usual fast-slow-fast scheme. 

“At some point, I started thinking about those three movements coming off almost as if they were three self-standing concertos. Each movement opens with an intense dialogue between piano and strings, which then gives over to further dialogue between piano and winds, followed by a synthesis. I wanted to keep my orchestral writing more disciplined than in the Second [Piano] Concerto. Thus, I’ve experimented with some filigree in the new concerto”, the composer recalled in our recent talk in Helsinki. 

Tailor-made to Yuja Wang, to whom the score is dedicated, Piano Concerto No. 3 is a virtuoso affair. 

“In terms of technique, Yuja is certainly one of the most amazing pianists of our time. The speed, the accuracy, those elements are really on the surface of her seemingly effortless playing. Therefore it would have been far-fetched to write some kind of contemplative piece for her”, Lindberg pointed out.   

Regarding to the concerto’s thematic line-up, there are several recurring groups of motives and gestures, developed organically in time and texture throughout the concerto, as if three parallel universes being born from shared parameters. In genuinely Lindbergian fashion, both the solo part and the orchestral writing are remarkably detailed and ever-imaginatively interlocked.

The electrifying opening movement is set in motion with the soloist’s gorgeous opening statement of chords and scalar passages, leading to a long-held harmonic field, joined by strings. Out of the scintillating hue, motives emerge and permute in the most ingenious ways. Developed with agility by the soloist and the orchestra, the movement eventually lands on a tremendous, written-out cadenza. With a brief recap of the opening textures, the movement comes to its close. 

Yuja Wang, the San Francisco Symphony and Esa-Pekka Salonen performing Lindberg at Davies Symphony Hall. Photo by Kristen Loken.

A series of ascending musical lines herald the second movement. After a spellbinding build-up, a shorter second cadenzais heard. From here, the instrumental fabric becomes distilled into chamber music, almost. Yet, the movement is not allowed to end in tranquility, for there is an astounding orchestral tutti waiting around the corner. Thus, the last forty bars of the movement open up to whole another universe, one of tremendous white heat.      

Kinetic and resplendent, the third movement is a celebration of all things pianistic. Lindberg also finds endless joys in writing for orchestra, including wonderful moments for timpani, bass drum and pitched percussion, most notably crotales, with gongs and metal plates. With added momentum, the concerto ends with a huge keyboard climb, with the soloist reaching the top of the instrument and giving the final chord a roaring triple forte, echoed by the full orchestra. 

A thunderous world premiere, the performance by Yuja Wang, the orchestra and Salonen was nothing short of triumph. Presented in the good company of Carl Nielsen’s radiant Helios Overture, op. 17 (1903) and Béla Bartók’s final masterpiece, Concerto for Orchestra (1943/1945), the Lindberg concerto got a flying start in San Francisco. 



San Francisco Symphony Orchestra

Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

Yuja Wang, piano


Carl Nielsen: Helios Overutre, op. 17 (1903) for orchestra

Magnus Lindberg: Piano Concerto No. 3 (2020-22)

Béla Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra, Sz. 116 (1943/1945) 


Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA

Saturday 15 October, 7.30 pm


Featured photo: Magnus Lindberg, Yuja Wang and Esa-Pekka Salonen taking a bow after a stellar world premiere performance of Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the San Francisco Symphony. Photo: Kristen Loken.