Monday, April 13, 2009

The End, and Beginning, for Esa-Pekka Salonen

SATURDAY night i took in one of the farewell concerts by esa-pekka salonen leading the los angeles philharmonic. of all the reigning  arts heads from when i arrived here a dozen years ago, i'd bet that salonen is the only one still in place. some institutions -- and this includes hollywood studios as well -- have turned over leadership several times in that period.

this was about as strong a concert as i've ever seen the phil offer: first was a wonderfully eerie short ligeti pieces, "clouds and clocks," in which strings and female voices made their own harmonic world without forgetting melody.

second was salonen's new violin concerto, a wide-ranging piece that sought to sum up his 17 years in LA and his 50 years on earth. except for an overly literary nod toward pop culture (with rock drumming) he almost entirely succeeded: the final movement, the adieu, is one of the most deeply felt adagios i've ever heard. and this from a man often considered an icy nordic. i am no scholar of contemporary music -- here is the nyt's tomassini's review of the same program. but my sense is that salonen's compositions have taken an enormous jump forward in the last five or six years, since about the phil's move into disney hall.

finally, the program's second half devoted to beethoven's fifth. wondering how this once-young-turn modernist would render this hoary old warhorse -- ironically? with a contemporary-music coolness? salonen jumped right in, literally. this is a hard piece to really >hear<, after all these years, but salonen and the phil made a convincing go of it.

there are some all-stravinsky programs coming, with visuals by peter sellars.

as we left disney hall, my wife and i lamented that the la times would not give his retirement (to compose fulltime) the attention it deserves, get into the whole sweep of the man's 17 years here. the next morning we found that we were wrong: this very fine story by mark swed gets at al of it.

HERE is my discussion with salonen re. his interest in rock music.

besides changing classical music's culture -- making it more contemporary and pop savvy -- and helping get the acoustic marvel disney hall built, salonen exemplifies a certain graceful, crisp and balletic conducting. he may lack the power or heft of the tradition austro-german maestro, but he brought something new and valuable to southern california.

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