By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor; Leila Josefowicz, violin
Friday, April 10, 2009 • Walt Disney Concert Hall
Next performances: Tomorrow at 8 p.m.
Info: 323/850-2000; www.laphil.com
Esa-Pekka Salonen’s 17-year tenure as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic comes to an end with concerts this week and next. One Tuesday, he led his final Green Umbrella concert and next week he concludes with two pieces —
Today’s concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall began with a three-minute video tribute to Salonen with the Finn’s words accompanying a series of videos and stats from his tenure, the longest in L.A. Phil history. Among other noteworthy achievements, the Phil has commissioned 54 works during Salonen’s tenure and presented 120 world and U.S. premieres.
Ironically for a man who is retiring at age 50 to devote more time to composing, there’s just one Salonen work on the final two orchestral concerts (I would have opted for
What Salonen wrote was a stunning violin concerto, brilliant played by 31-year-old Leila Josefowicz, who was born in Toronto but grew up in Los Angeles and studied with Ronald Lipsett at The Colburn School. She was the recipient of an Avery Fisher Prize in 1994 and a MacArthur “Genius” grant last year and collaborated extensively with Salonen on this 30-minute, four-movement concerto.
As is the case with his piano concerto, Salonen’s violin concerto may not get too much play because the solo part is fiendishly difficult (only Yefim Bronfman to date has soloed in Salonen’s piano concerto, although Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen will tackle it next summer in Hollywood Bowl). Thus Josefowicz earns plaudits for learning the work and playing it from memory.
She opened the work meditatively and unaccompanied; later, orchestra players snuck in with broad, sonorous chords that provided a rich accompaniment. Actually, this work is one of Salonen’s most accessible compositions throughout; few listening to it would cringe at any point.
The highlight of the work (to these ears) was the ferocious third movement, which Salonen characterized as “something very California.” Oddly enough, I found myself imagining what Salonen’s LAPO replacement, Gustavo Dudamel, would do with this pulsating, powerful music; it seems tailor made for the Venezuelan’s enthusiasm.
The final movement features virtuosic playing from Josefowicz, while the orchestra (including 12 tuned gongs) — which played beautifully throughout — pours out great washes of sound before the entire piece dissolves into the type of meditation with which it began. Salonen, in his somewhat obtuse program notes, said of the ending, “The chord is the beginning of something new.” That’s something to which we can all look forward in future years.
Salonen and the orchestra opened the morning with a luminous reading of Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Clocks and Clouds,” a work that Salonen first conducted in L.A. the year before he became the orchestra’s music director. In this performance, 12 women from the Los Angeles Master Chorale sat where the first violins reside and, thus, became an integral part of the ensemble. It added an intriguing touch to this 13-minute work.
After intermission, came Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. If you like this most familiar of symphonies played with race horse speed, then this performance was right up your alley and most everyone in the audience loved it. Count me in the minority. Afterwards, I thought to myself, “If Salonen had conducted like this when he was beginning his LAPO tenure, we would have said, ‘He’ll mellow as he gets older.’” Apparently not. The orchestra struggled, not always successfully, to stay precise at Salonen’s tempos, and while the whole affair left me breathless, that was not exactly the reaction for which I had hoped.
(c) Copyright 2009, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.