Welcome to Salonen central: A farewell to the maestro

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Here at Culture Monster, we are not into spreading unfounded rumors, but we do keep hearing chatter that a certain music director for a major orchestra in the Southern California area will soon be stepping down. Rather than name names, here are some hints as to his identity:

-- He was born in Helsinki, Finland, in 1958.

-- He once composed a piece called ‘Floof.’

-- He likes long walks on the beach and is known to have done so at least one time in Armani coattails and flip-flops.

-- His name is in the headline of this post, and his photo is at right. At the beach. In coattails and flip-flops. With his daughter Ella.


OK, we as might well break down and tell you that it’s Esa-Pekka Salonen. (And admit that we put him up to do the photo shoot at the beach -- but that’s another story for another time.)

With Salonen set to conduct his last concert as the Los Angeles Philharmonic music director next Sunday afternoon, we’re paying tribute to L.A.'s most famous Finnish Angeleno (Finnangeleno?) with a package of stories and photographs.

Mark Swed leads off with a Critic’s Notebook, in which he writes:

Salonen has put a spring in L.A.’s step that is likely to last. He has changed us meaningfully, and we have changed him meaningfully. A catalyst in the classic sense, he came to California as a foreign agent — a European Modernist from a country with one of the world’s most homogenous populations dropped down on Tinseltown, one the most diverse places anywhere. People magazine thought him one of the 50 most beautiful people on the planet, but he resisted cheap celebrity. Instead, he made classical music sexy — and very important. But first he had to find himself.

You can read Swed’s full assessment here.

In Sunday’s Arts & Books section, Reed Johnson continues the thread:

Salonen’s Los Angeles legacy can’t be summed up in one concert, or a series of them. During his tenure he hired 54 members of the orchestra. Under his leadership, the Phil earned international recognition both for its performances and its risk-taking programming.

And together with Borda and the Phil’s board members and staff, he repositioned the institution to take advantage of its cutting-edge new home when the Phil moved across the street from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to the Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003.

Then, there are the memories of friends and colleagues (including former Philharmonic executive Ernest Fleischmann, architect Frank Gehry, artist Bill Viola, director Peter Sellars, pianist Emanuel Ax and many more), excerpts of past reviews of key Salonen concerts (the good and the bad), a career retrospective in photos and a photo gallery of Salonen rehearsing for his final Green Umbrella concert last week, his ‘farewell tour,’ as well as reviews of the Green Umbrella concert and Thursday’s premiere of his Violin Concerto.

And keep coming back to Culture Monster for more. As you can probably tell, we’re gonna miss the guy.

-- Scott Sandell

Above: Esa-Pekka Salonen and daughter Ella at Will Rogers State Beach for a Times photo shoot in 2008. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times. Bottom: Salonen with L.A. Phil exec Ernest Fleischmann in 1989. Credit: Los Angeles Times.