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Esa-Pekka Salonen leaves on a warm, embracing note

April 19, 2009 |  6:25 pm

Salonen 

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.

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