A Warm Welcome for L.A.'s New Maestro


It was getting close to midnight and Esa-Pekka Salonen and his wife, Jane, were still surrounded by a swirl of well-wishers thrilled and elated by his debut performance as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

But as Salonen listened politely to the praise for his conducting of Mahler's Third Symphony, he admitted he was anxious to get home because--although his parents were baby-sitting--it was the first time the couple had left their new daughter, Ella Aneira, for a whole evening: "We were a bit nervous."

But fans at the post-concert supper in the Pavilion Restaurant Thursday were in no hurry to let him go.

"You cannot imagine how glad we are you are here," stressed Ernest Fleischmann, the Philharmonic's executive vice president and managing director, one of many to step to the podium at the party--after introductions by Philharmonic Board of Director President Joseph LaBonte--to enthuse over the beginning of a new era.

Disney Hall Chairman Fred Nicholas and Steve Lavine, president of CalArts, were almost dancing with joy. Nicholas threw his arms up as he exclaimed: "Young people are going to love Esa-Pekka. He's like a ballet dancer up there on the podium."

"He's so cute, he's adorable," at least one woman sighed as Salonen took the stage. Hours later, the same sentiments were still being expressed as the ladies unfurled the giveaway poster of the young Finnish conductor clad in jeans.

"This is a critical time in this city, so this is a marvelous opportunity to show what music can do to transform people's lives and enable them to talk to each other," said Adolfo Nodal, general manager of the city's Cultural Affairs Department. Others on hand to express variations on this sentiment included Joy Picus and Hal Bernson from the City Council, Ginny Mancini, Gordon and Judi Davidson and Sony Classical's Larry Golinski. (Sony co-hosted the party with the Philharmonic.)

Meanwhile, Peter Sellars--a standout as usual in an electric blue suit amid the conservatively dressed crowd--teased LaBonte, who had introduced him with the comment: "Everyone has an opinion about Peter."

"I'm very thin-skinned. I have a bad self-image," Sellars said with a grin as he lined up with the LaBontes and the Salonens for photographers.

But Salonen had had enough of words. He said that since his appointment three years ago, he's had to answer question after question about what he was going to do. But now that he is officially the music director, "I don't have to explain it, I can just do it.

"Making music with a great orchestra is beyond music, beyond language," he concluded. His remarks, aptly, were the shortest and cutest of the evening.

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