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How Esa-Pekka Salonen changed L.A.--and vice versa

September 26, 2008 |  4:09 pm

What_youthful_fervor When Esa-Pekka Salonen was named music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1983, some people were skepitical. Too cold, some thought. Too flashy. And certainly too young.

So much for the skeptics.

He proved them all wrong, and as the Philharmonic prepares to start a new season, Times Music Critic Mark Swed assesses how the orchestra has changed under Salonen's baton:

      "From the point of view of language," he said in his accented but sophisticated English, "Finland is home. But in every other way, L.A. is. Two of my kids were born here, and I have to say we have had a very good life here."

       But come April, Salonen will relinquish one of his L.A. residences. He's staying in Brentwood, where he lives with his English-born wife and three children, but he is giving up his artistic home at Walt Disney Concert Hall. His 17th season as Philharmonic music director, which begins Thursday, will be his last. For all the anticipation over the young Venezuelan superstar Gustavo Dudamel, who will be taking over a year from now, this will be a bittersweet season at the symphony.

      Salonen has altered Los Angeles. Los Angeles has altered him. But the equation is complex. "It is very hard to say what exactly has occurred," he said after a pause, "because the goalposts all have changed. I have changed. The orchestra has changed. The world has changed. And all of this has happened on several levels."

Click away for more on Salonen's career. And be sure to check out the Salonen photo gallery. You'll see photos taken through the years, including the one here, from a Hollywood Bowl performance in 1985.

-- Steve Padilla

Photo: Los Angeles Times