Renowned as one of the world's leading conductors, Esa-Pekka Salonen is also a gifted composer of highly expressive, colorful, and idiomatic music that has found a growing audience. His Violin Concerto (2009) won the 2012 Grawemeyer Prize and was composed for Leila Josefowicz, who performs as soloist with Salonen and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra on this Deutsche Grammophon release. The dazzling virtuosity of the violin part translates into equally flashy writing for the orchestra, and it's apparent that Salonen wrote with a conductor's ear for all the instruments' capabilities, not primarily for the violin above an indifferent accompaniment.
Composer John Adams' album Road Movies contains five pieces that Adams' considers "travel music, (…) passing through harmonic and textural regions as one would pass through on a car trip." Indeed, during Leila Josefowicz's spirited and appropriately brusque reading of the "40% Swing" movement from the title work, one hears what sounds like a passing auto in the left channel. Is it mere coincidence or the album concept channeling onto the master tape?
Success was assured for Leila Josefowicz in her 1994 recording debut, for the 17-year-old violinist had performed these works several times before and had perfected her interpretations through constant preparation and presentation. Along with her boundless energy and self-confidence, Josefowicz's skills have placed her at the forefront of violin virtuosi, and this recording is a fascinating record of her precocity. Tchaikovsky's Classically oriented violin concerto is as bright a showpiece as exists in the repertoire. However, Josefowicz's mastery of the brilliant scales and arpeggios is almost secondary to her soulful shaping of the purely melodic material that is at the heart of this intensely lyrical piece.
You'd get differing answers to the question of whether John Adams is America's greatest living composer, but he's the one to whom the country turned in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The demand for new work from him has only increased since he achieved senior citizen status. Fortunately, he's been able to meet that demand with distinctive large-scale works. Consider 2016's Scheherazade.2, recorded here by the violinist who premiered the work, Leila Josefowicz, with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under David Robertson. The piece succeeds on several levels. It is, outwardly, as close as Adams has come to writing a big Romantic violin concerto, and it will no doubt be welcomed into the concert repertory as such. Yet go into it more deeply, and it seems less a concerto than – well, what, exactly? Adams calls it a "dramatic symphony." English critic Nick Breckenfield has compared it to Berlioz's Harold in Italy, with the soloist representing an individual making her way through a series of adventures that may have a threatening tinge.