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Esa-Pekka Salonen vs. Gustavo Dudamel, as both conduct Bruckner

March 10, 2011 | 10:05 am

For once it has not been a contest: The music world’s 2007 Easter Surprise — the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s joint announcement that Esa-Pekka Salonen would step down after 17 years as music director and Gustavo Dudamel would succeed him — was, of course, big news.

Clearly the new guy was a star. But also the smoothness of the transition was notable. Even when a music director doesn’t wear out his or her welcome (and many do), there is usually an awkward transition period of a year or two or more before the new person steps in. There is also usually a public guessing game. There is never one music director literally passing the baton to the next, as happened at the 2007 philharmonic news conference.

And to make this even smoother, Salonen, while not a mentor of Dudamel, was a role model. Dudamel pays homage to Salonen by conducting his music.

And yet, and yet.

It would be harder, in some ways, to find two conductors from more dissimilar cultures and backgrounds than the 52-year-old Finn and the 30-year-old Venezuelan. Finally, last weekend, there was a chance to see them back to back, when Dudamel conducted Bruckner’s magnificent Seventh Symphony at home and Salonen led it Chicago, as a guest with that city’s great orchestra.

Here’s what happened.

— Mark Swed

Photo: Esa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel at the Los Angeles Philharmonic news conference in 2007. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times.