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Esa-Pekka Salonen leaves on a warm, embracing note

April 19, 2009 |  6:25 pm


Esa-Pekka Salonen's final act of 17 years as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic was to be the somewhat reluctant recipient Sunday afternoon of what was undoubtedly the biggest hug-a-thon in orchestra history.

A capacity audience stood and cheered Salonen for 12 minutes as members of his orchestra formed an impromptu line on the stage of Walt Disney Concert Hall and enveloped their boss in embrace after embrace.

Salonen responded to the attention with a combination of pleasure, shyness and an eye for the stage door, but neither the musicians nor the audience would let him go. And though he didn't address the audience, he did bow and repeatedly touch his hand over his heart.

Sunday saw the end of Salonen's tenure as the L.A. Phil's 10th music director; he is the longest-serving conductor in the orchestra's 90-year history.

Salonen2 The program was the 973rd concert Salonen has conducted with the orchestra, directing his own compositions as well as those of composers ranging from John Adams to Alexander Zemlinsky.

The final performance presented Igor Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex" and "Symphony of Palms" and, according to an orchestra librarian, was the 209th time Salonen has conducted works by the legendary 20th century Russian composer.

The music referenced both the conductor's history with the orchestra and the composer's history with the orchestra:

-- "Oedipus Rex" was part of the first program Salonen conducted in 1989 after he was named music director, a position he took title of in 1992.

-- After relocating to the United States in 1939, Stravinsky had a decades-long association with the orchestra and often conducted it at the Hollywood Bowl.

Salonen's own association with the orchestra is not completely finished. Before the performance, L.A. Philharmonic Assn. Chairman David C. Bohnett announced from the stage that Salonen has been named for life as the orchestra's first-ever conductor laureate.

The orchestra's president and chief executive, Deborah Borda, amplified Salonen's appointment, telling the audience that "we wanted to say goodbye but not farewell."

The news was greeted with a thunderous round of applause. It would not be the last of the day.

-- Christopher Smith

Photos: Esa-Pekka Salonen's last performance as Los Angeles Philharmonic music director. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho.

Comments () | Archives (7)

This was an incrdible performance.

We are lucky to have had Esa-Pekka in our city as long as we did, he did so much for classical music, the city, and culture. You could definitely feel the love from the audience, the orchestra, and everyone at the concert hall, I feel so lucky to have been able to be there.

I've never heard an ovation like that before anywhere outside of a rock concert. Spontaneous rhythmic clapping on two or three occasions. An amazing afternoon of great music. LA Phil were great and Master Chorale sounded amazing -- especially notable were the men lying on their stomachs while singing at the beginning of Oedipus Rex. Thanks, E-P. Look forward to seeing you back soon.

By any possible measure, a truly phenomenal tenure as Music Director of the Philharmonic.

Esa-Pekka Salonen arrived here seventeen years ago with the intention of not building up his own career, but of much larger and consequential pursuits: the constant and uncompromising striving to help transform a city and its cultural identity.

He succeeded so profoundly that there is no doubt that this period will be looked back at as the golden age of the orchestra as an institution and cultural body.

Thank you so much, Maestro. We will miss you and your vision, integrity, and good-natured presence more than we can imagine.

We've had fantastic concerts of mostly European music since EP took the helm. Music from this hemisphere will be heard more when he's gone and replaced with a young South American musician. His presence has had a invigorating affect on the orchestra but a stultifying one on composers from the Americas. Can you imagine a similar situation with Helsinki Symphony where a young American comes to conduct and plays almost no Finnish music for 20 years?

from London ... congratulations on a wonderful 17 years that has made the LAPO possibly the wold's top orchestra.. I remember attending one of the 1st concerts at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion....and now we anticipate the residency of Gustavo Dudamel...

Thank you for your incalculable service to classical music and culture in Los Angeles and the world Esa-Pekka Salonen. You will be forever remembered as a treasured contributor to the artistic community and an advocate for risky challenging music. You kept us and the world over on our toes. Thank you thank you thank you.


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