Immediately after conducting the last
Philharmonic concert of the 2007-08 season in June, music director
took off for
, where the Swedish Radio Orchestra celebrated his 50th birthday with an affectionately screwball gala. Next he visited his country home in his native
, where he composes and recharges. In August, he went to the Finnish capital to conduct at the Helsinki Festival, which he once headed, and then back to Stockholm to do the same at the Baltic Sea Festival, which he started six years ago to increase awareness of environmental issues through music. That was followed by his Vienna Philharmonic debut at the Salzburg Festival in Austria.
A major figure in Scandinavia, a conductor and composer in demand throughout the world who keeps places in
, Finland and Brentwood, Salonen greeted me at a casual cafe on San Vicente Boulevard early this month by saying that it was good to be home. Dressed in T-shirt, cargo shorts, sandals and sunglasses, he was eager to sit outside and soak up some sun.
"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
. 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 goal posts all have changed. I have changed. The orchestra has changed. The world has changed. And all of this has happened on several levels."
There can be little doubt that Salonen, who has made the Philharmonic an international model for the modern symphony orchestra, has grown artistically, as well as in prominence, in ways no one would have predicted. Not least himself. But in fact, one man did predict that Salonen was fated for L.A.
In 1983, an unknown, boyish-looking 25-year-old composer with long hair (who took up conducting because
had to perform his and his friends' music) was called to London at the last minute to replace an indisposed