Chad Smith, Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, has long nurtured the desire to commission a new work by Arvo Pärt. When the Los Angeles Philharmonic submitted this idea to Arvo Pärt in February 2007, the suggestion came at precisely the right moment. Pärt was working at that time with an ancient canon in Church Slavonic containing a prayer to a guardian angel – the connection to 'Los Angeles' was irresistible. Pärt was further inspired to take the commission by the idea of seeing this work performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, one of the best orchestras in the world, under its music director Esa-Pekka Salonen, and in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the most exciting concert buildings of our time.
The Canberra International Music Festival / Ars Musica Australis and the Sydney Conservatorium of Music joined the project as co-commissioners, thanks to the committed work of director Chris Latham.
It may come as a surprise that it has taken so long (37 years) for Pärt to produce his fourth symphony. Symphony No. 3 emerged in 1971, in a time of transition before Pärt had fully developed the 'Tintinnabuli style' which he still employs today. Since developing this style, Pärt has not written any orchestral works which could be called 'symphonic' in scope or structure. With Symphony No. 4, which he calls 'Los Angeles', he creates a reference to this essential phase in his compositional life. Symphony No. 4 incorporates Pärt’s "These Words…" for string orchestra, which was premiered in May 2008 in Copenhagen. As was previously seen in some of Pärt’s early instrumental works, all parameters of the text (number of syllables, inflection, punctuation etc) play a decisive role in the structure of the composition.
Arvo Pärt has dedicated Symphony No. 4 'Los Angeles' to Mikhail Khodorkovsky.