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CLASSICAL  April 2007

CLASSICAL April 2007

Subject:

Strange Move in Los Angeles

From:

Roger Hecht <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 9 Apr 2007 09:52:09 -0400

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text/plain

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   Maestro will pass baton to up-and-comer in '09
   Salonen will leave his L.A. Philharmonic post to young Venezuelan.
   By Mark Swed
   Times Staff Writer
   
   April 8, 2007
   
   After helping make the Los Angeles Philharmonic one of the world's
   most adventurous and versatile orchestras, Esa-Pekka Salonen has
   decided to step down as music director at the end of the 2008-09
   season. His successor, the Philharmonic will announce Monday,
   will be Gustavo Dudamel, a charismatic 26-year-old conductor
   from Venezuela.

   Salonen, who will still live in Los Angeles, intends to concentrate
   on composing, although he plans to continue to conduct the
   Philharmonic and other orchestras.
   
   "I always felt that one day I would have to make the change in
   my own life, bite the bullet and see what it is to be a composer
   who conducts rather than the other way around," he said in an
   interview.
   
   "There is nothing drastic or dramatic behind this," he said. "I
   would say it's something quite normal or organic in my case."
   
   Already nearly as in demand as a composer as he is as a conductor,
   Salonen, 48, said he had long wanted to find more time to write.
   But his scheduled departure will still make him the longest-serving
   music director in the history of the Philharmonic, which was
   founded in 1919.
   
   Signing Dudamel to a five-year contract as its next music director,
   beginning in the 2009-10 season, is a daring move by the orchestra.
   Audiences instantly respond to his ebullience and his curly-haired,
   boyish good looks. Yet although several major orchestras are
   believed to have been vying for him, Dudamel had never stood
   before a professional orchestra before taking part in a conducting
   competition sponsored by the Bamberg Symphony in Germany three
   years ago.
   
   He was hailed as a natural on the podium and easily won that
   competition. Former longtime Philharmonic General Manager Ernest
   Fleischmann, who was among the jurors, told The Times in December:
   "Of the hundreds of conductors I've come across, only a few in
   their early 20s were of his caliber. Two others were Esa-Pekka
   and Simon Rattle, now music director of the Berlin Philharmonic."
   
   Dudamel's U.S. debut was conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic
   at the Hollywood Bowl in the summer of 2005, and it proved an
   immediate sensation because of the electricity of his gestures
   and his unbounded enthusiasm.
   
   Since then, he has conducted some of the world's most important
   orchestras, including the Boston Symphony, and has conducted
   at Italy's La Scala opera house. Next season, he is scheduled
   to make his debuts with the New York Philharmonic, the Berlin
   Philharmonic and the Vienna Philharmonic. He has also been signed
   to an exclusive contract by the Deutsche Grammophon record label.
   On Thursday night, he led the Chicago Symphony for the first
   time.
   
   "Los Angeles was the first orchestra to give me the opportunity
   to make my U.S. debut at the very beginning of my career," Dudamel
   said from Chicago. "The energy was very special from the start,
   and I love how open to new ideas the orchestra is."
   
   With the joint announcement of Salonen's departure and Dudamel's
   hiring, the Philharmonic is bypassing the typical lengthy search
   during which an orchestra's every guest conductor is scrutinized
   by the public and media as a possible candidate for its leadership.
   
   In some cases, an orchestra can flounder for years without a music
   director. Nor will the Philharmonic be forced to compete with the
   Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Chicago
   Symphony, all of which are in the midst of conductor searches.
   
   L.A. Philharmonic President Deborah Borda said that because
   Salonen has always been forthright about his desire to compose
   more, she began thinking about a new music director from the
   moment she assumed her post in 2000.
   
   More recently, a small Artistic Liaison Committee made up of
   Borda, Salonen and select members of the orchestra and its board
   of directors quietly evaluated conductors. Borda said the response
   from both the players and the public to Dudamel's first concert
   with the Philharmonic at Disney Hall, in January, when he was
   even more impressive than at his Bowl appearance, is what swayed
   the committee.
   
   Under the Finnish-born Salonen - who was himself 26 when he first
   conducted the Philharmonic in 1984 and 34 when he became music
   director in 1992 - the orchestra has become known for the dynamism
   of his performances and for his fresh ideas about programming.
   He also raised the ensemble's profile in 2003 when he ushered
   it into a new home at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert
   Hall, a venue that has made it the envy of orchestras worldwide.
   
   Lately, the orchestra has been in the news for works it has
   commissioned; for such special projects as a concert presentation
   of the Wagner opera "Tristan and Isolde," with video by Bill
   Viola and staging by Peter Sellars, which it is scheduled to
   begin repeating Thursday; and for performances of Salonen's own
   music, which combines a European rigor with a West Coast pizazz.
   
   Those works include the 1997 orchestral piece "LA Variations";
   the 2004 "Wing on Wing," for orchestra and two sopranos, written
   for Disney Hall; and a piano concerto that was given its world
   premiere in February by soloist Yefim Bronfman and the New York
   Philharmonic, with Salonen conducting.
   
   In the 2008-09 season, his last with the Philharmonic, Salonen
   is also set to become chief conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra
   of London. But that position comes with no administrative duties
   and does not require him to conduct the enormous amount of
   standard repertory expected of a music director in America.
   
   The job in Britain will also not require him to leave Los Angeles,
   where he lives with his wife, Jane; two daughters; and a son.
   
   "I'm very happy to be a California artist; it suits me very
   well," he said. And he contended that he would continue to find
   projects locally, such as his well-attended Stravinsky and Ligeti
   festivals with the Philharmonic. "I know that as long as I'm
   able to function as a musician in any capacity, I'll be working
   with the L.A.  Philharmonic in some capacity."
   
   Salonen will, however, give up what was reported in The Times
   last year as the highest salary among Southern California nonprofit
   arts organizations. The Philharmonic does not divulge salaries,
   but tax records show Salonen was paid nearly $1.3 million in
   2004, although the figure is significantly lower than other top
   maestros, who can make more than $2 million a year. Dudamel's
   age and relative lack of fame are likely to keep his salary well
   below Salonen's current figure, at least for a few years.
   
   At his Brentwood home last week, Salonen, who was also on the
   jury of the Bamberg competition three years ago, suggested that
   Dudamel's inexperience should be of little concern.
   
   "He's definitely equipped with everything one needs to be
   conductor, and the mind is incredibly agile and quick," Salonen
   said. He also noted that "investing in the future is very much
   in the spirit of this organization. The fascinating thing is
   going to be: What is the world for a twentysomething like? It's
   bound to be very different from my world."
   
   The Philharmonic's trust in youth has been rewarded. Zubin Mehta
   was 26 when he became music director in 1962, and he remained
   with the orchestra for 16 years.
   
   Another big change for the orchestra will be the Latin American
   perspective Dudamel will bring, including what he said would
   be the inclusion of music by more Central and South American
   composers.  Presuming that Placido Domingo, who grew up in Madrid
   and Mexico City, remains general director of Los Angeles Opera,
   the Southland's two largest performing arts organizations will,
   by decade's end, be run by Latinos.
   
   Dudamel, who was born in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, to a trombonist
   father and a voice teacher mother, is a product of his country's
   extensive music education program, which provides children the
   opportunity to study instruments and play in orchestras at an
   early age. Dudamel took up the violin at 10 and began conducting
   at 15.
   
   Since 1999, he has been music director of the Simon Bolivar
   National Youth Orchestra, with which he is scheduled to perform
   at Disney Hall in the fall. He will also become principal conductor
   of the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden next season but said he
   planned to divide his time among the three orchestras. This will
   oblige him to reduce his guest conducting appearances but not
   forgo them.
   
   "It is always beautiful to dance with other girls," he said.
   
   For all the emphasis on youth in Southern California, Philharmonic
   President Borda said she recognized that the appointment of
   Dudamel comes with many unknowns.
   
   "Of course we don't know what's going to happen," she said. "But
   remember, he's been conducting Mahler symphonies since he was a
   teenager. He's been doing those works at a much younger age than
   other people.
   
   "Now we must let him be him."

Roger Hecht

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