So Long, Salonen

L.A. Philharmonic Bids Farewell to Music Director, Heads to Granada

ESA-PEKKA, WE HARDLY KNEW YE:It’s been a not-so-quiet and bittersweet month at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, where the Los Angeles Philharmonic has bid adieu to Esa-Pekka Salonen, who has now officially ended his enlightened reign as the visionary maestro of that orchestra. Over his 17-year run, the soft-spoken and boyishly handsome 50-year-old powerhouse has personally made possible both a grand hall-one of the finest orchestra rooms in the nation and beyond-and the new, internationally revered status of his orchestra. But Salonen always wore his hero status lightly, preferring to train his attention where it mattered most: on the music.

Two weeks ago at Disney Hall, Salonen focused on one of his favorite composers, Igor Stravinsky, in a unique, Peter Sellars-directed blend of Oedipus Rex melting into the illuminating Symphony of Psalms. With that beneficent finale, Salonen ended with a grand but gentle choral/orchestral wash rather than a crescendo. The L.A. Master Chorale Singers dispersed around the room and, along with the orchestra members, literally surrounded the beloved Finn at the podium.

Esa-Pekka Salonen

A week prior, we got an inspired taste of Salonen the composer (a role he intends to pursue more deeply now that he’s a free agent), with the world premiere of his Violin concerto, written for nimble virtuoso Leila Josefowicz. Salonen’s concerto is a fine new example of his uncanny ability to blend thorny and visceral writing. Salonen’s centerpiece was framed, on the program, by Gyrgy Ligeti‘s vaporous and vigorous Clocks and Clouds and Ludwig van Beethoven‘s Symphony No. 5. Yes, Beethoven’s Fifth, beautifully done up with Salonen’s clean and energizing dynamic delineations.

(For further listening, check out the new Deutsche Gramophone recording of Salonen’s music, recorded with the L.A. Phil, and featuring his wondrous Helix for Orchestra, a piece performed at Disney Hall last season and seemingly a site-specific and orchestra-specific work, for this band, in this hall.)

It was a year ago that Salonen was gracing another celebrated room, closer to home, when he christened the new, vastly renovated Granada Theatre for orchestra music, to the tune of Richard Wagner. That orchestral inauguration was in good and locally propitious hands: The L.A. Phil has been coming up to perform in Santa Barbara for decades now, courtesy of CAMA. Saturday night, May 2, finds the post-Salonen, pre-Gustavo Dudamel L.A. Philharmonic once again in the Granada, this time led by guest conductor Hans Graff and pianist Kirill Gerstein as guest soloist on Franz Liszt‘s Piano Concerto No. 2.

Salonen is moving on in the world, but his work in this geo-cultural slice of the world won’t be forgotten, thanks partly to the Disney Hall, the luster and fire of this orchestra, recordings, and stubborn good memories.

VENTURA MUSICAL HIGHWAY: Each year around this time, area music lovers are magnetically pulled down Ventura’s way, for the annual Ventura Music Festival (formerly the Ventura Chamber Music Festival). This year’s program offers an impressive mix. The grand classical guitar dynasty of the Romero Family, which performed at the Lobero last fall, plays the Missionary Church on Saturday, and on Sunday afternoon, the stage on the grounds of Ventura College belongs to jazz and pop trumpeter Chris Bottiwho has staked a claim in smooth jazz but is better than that. Also on tap are David Krakauer’s Acoustic Klezmer Project, and Mehta 2-a Family Affair, an intergenerational duet between festival director/violinist Nuvi Mehta and his pianist father Dady Mehta.

TO-DOINGS:Fiddle meets violin, and concertmaster present meets concertmaster past, next Thursday at the Lobero, in the program cheekily dubbed Sizzlin’ Fiddlin’. It’s all about, and for the benefit of the Santa Barbara Symphony. Current first violinist Caroline Campbell, a dynamic front person with a versatile approach to music-and violinist to the stars and L.A. studios-convenes with an older local legend, Gilles Apap, who is known for his irreverent (yet actually deeply reverent) hybridizing: Bach, the blues, Irish, gypsy, and Carnatic fiddling all become viable ingredients in Apap’s musical stew. This show, which should be fun-and fundamentally musical-is for a very good cause.


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