There was a point in the construction of Disney Hall when I began to hear the hammers and could hear the guys talking and now we were close to getting the balance we wanted. I called Esa-Pekka and asked, "Would you indulge me? The space is interesting and could we share that." He said, "Sure." I then called back and asked, "Could you bring a musical instrument?"
His musical instrument was Los Angeles Philharmonic concertmaster Martin Chalifour, who stood in a hard hat with his violin where the stage would be. My son Sam, Esa-Pekka and I went to the top. All of a sudden we could hear this beautiful sound. I started crying and so did Esa-Pekka. It was the first hint of the sound that we ended up with. I'll never forget that experience.
son of composer Arnold Schoenberg, now involved in the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna
Esa-Pekka Salonen became a true Angeleno. Sometimes valuable resources have a relatively short life in our city. We are conditioned to and expect change, whether it be buildings or conductors. He navigated easily and triumphantly from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, he was the driving force of the Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts and the New Music Green Umbrella concerts. And his compositions are both for and about Los Angeles.
I recall when I met him, when he first came to Los Angeles, he requested a copy of the Man Ray photograph of my father and very recently he effectively "orchestrated" an intimate family video: pictorial bookends to a memorable but seemingly short 17-year visit.
keyboards, Los Angeles
I have always heard stories from my colleagues about how quiet and shy Esa-Pekka was when he first got here. I find this hard to believe, because these days when he takes the microphone and speaks to the audience about whatever fresh new composition they are about to hear, he's like a stand-up comedian up there! Recently, we saw him pick up a microphone for another reason: to give a speech to us musicians and L.A. Phil staff on the last night of our fabulous Asia tour. The first thing he did was to lament the fact that our hard-working production staff is never able to party with the rest of us when the performances are through -- I thought that was such a thoughtful gesture; a real testament to how his musical "family" here in L.A. has touched him, and vice versa.
cellist who has known Salonen since he was 12 and Salonen was 13 as musicians in a junior orchestra in Finland (Salonen was principal horn)
He wrote his first solo cello piece for me around 1985. We had been talking about this for a long time. He worked on it a whole summer, and the concert was coming closer and closer. The morning of the concert was already there, and I still hadn't seen one note. In the end, he gave me the music when I was going on stage. A friend of ours, the great clarinetist Kari Kriikku, came up with me and turned the pages while I was sight reading on stage.
I like this story as an example of the kind of attitude he had, and we had, toward new pieces. He was absolutely keen and determined to get the piece done, but at the same time it wasn't going to happen any faster than it was happening. Every day he was apologizing, he's working as hard as he can. We both knew that it was going to happen, he wasn't going to cancel the performance, so apologies really weren't necessary.
I've seen him be nervous, when he was conducting a piece of his own. You can see that he's doing two roles at the same time. I remember doing the first performance of his cello concerto ("Mania") in Finland. I thought, I've never in my life seen Esa-Pekka nervous, but at that time I saw him nervous as a composer. The conductor Salonen was trying to help the very nervous composer Salonen who didn't know what to do. That's the only time I've seen him behave in a slightly different way than what he always does.