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Esa-Pekka Salonen to lead San Francisco Symphony

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Esa-Pekka Salonen becoming head of the San Francisco Symphony is really one of the best things to happen here in the arts in years. I heard Salonen conduct the Symphony a few years ago in Ravel Mother Goose, Stravinsky Firebird and his own Nyx, the orchestra playing with great (coolish) color and transparency and delicately tensioned detailing. Very thrilling performance.

Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times assess the challenges ahead:

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Were Salonen to create a synergy between Silicon Valley and the symphony orchestra, we could see a profound effect not only on music but on the valley’s myopic worldview. Salonen could well be the only artist with that potential, given that he is one of the most sophisticated and musically uncompromising of today’s conductors, with nearly fail-proof antennae for spotting gimmickry ...

But that is not enough. As its old traditional San Francisco patronage makes way for the new, the orchestra is at a crossroads that has signs of desperation. There have been worrisome administrative shake-ups, with an unproven team replacing a much-admired old one.

The biggest danger of all is that the management takes its cues from Silicon Valley and thinks of this grand experiment as a start-up, expecting instant results. Salonen’s success at the L.A. Phil was exactly the opposite. His 17 years here began in 1992 on shaky ground, with riots, an earthquake, an economic recession, a prickly local press and an audience not yet ready for new music.

It took years to change attitudes and build audiences, and he never would have succeeded without the unwavering support of two exceptional artistic managers, Ernest Fleischmann and Deborah Borda ...

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-esa-pekka-salonen-san-francisco-20181205-story.html

Alex Ross in The New Yorker:

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So what can Salonen do in San Francisco that he didn’t do in L.A.? “For one thing,I am in a very different place now than I was when I first came here,” he says.“Back then,I wasn’t thinking too much about the problems of younger composers. I wasn’t necessarily interested in nurturing new things, maybe because I was myself a new thing to be nurtured. Now that’s very much on my mind. So many composers get a score played once, on very little rehearsal, and then it vanishes.I want to create a situation in San Francisco where we have an extended period of working with composers on pieces, and then keep them in rotation.” Salonen will be composing for the orchestra as well; commissions are written into his contract.

 

 

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This is a great choice for MTT replacement. I heard Salonen conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic (when his was their Music Director), the Philharmonia Orchestra of London and San Francisco Symphony. I sometimes felt that LA did not deserve Salonen—he was too intelligent, refined and mild-mannered. They are now much better off with flamboyant, high-powered Dudamel. While SFS musicians seem to be on the same wave length with Salonen and I could always sense the respect they have for him.

Edited by Dreamer

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Thank you for posting this very good news, Quiggin. From the LA Times piece:

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“There is a whole new upper class, which is not traditional but a tech upper class, and the young tech community does not see orchestral music as their go-to thing. Of course, the fact is very clear I’m the old white guy and European by origin. So I need help in terms of creating a proper identity for the orchestra.”

The old money took for granted that you supported the classical arts, if only for purposes of social climbing even if you had no special passion for them; the new money doesn't, and sees no special value in having a symphony orchestra around. Salonen will have his work cut out for him.

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3 hours ago, Dreamer said:

This is a great choice for MTT replacement. I heard Salonen conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic (when his was their Music Director), the Philharmonia Orchestra of London and San Francisco Symphony. I sometimes felt that LA did not deserve Salonen—he was too intelligent, refined and mild-mannered. 

Actually before Salonen there was an equally refined music director of the LA Phil – Carlo Maria Giulini, from 1978 to 1984, who did a great Don Carlo, Brahms Requiem and Mahler 9th. And way before Giulini there was Otto Klemperer. And of course, Stravinsky and Schoenberg were around and there was the long lived "Evenings on the Roof" series which featured their work. RedCat at Disney Hall, which they're trying to duplicate here in San Francisco, is a kind of successor to that. When I worked in a tiny record shop in Hollywood, Mel Torme once came in and surprised us – we had a big stock of rare jazz LP's (Blue Notes with two digit, pre-zip zone codes on the back) – by buying a box set of Quartetto Italiano playing the Schumann string quartets. Stayed for a long discussion on classical music with my boss.

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15 hours ago, Quiggin said:

... Stravinsky and Schoenberg were around ...

Indeed, Stravinsky conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but not only in his own music, as we would expect, but in that of another Russian, the one he referred to as "The most Russian of us all."  Does everyone know of the 1953 recording, from the years Alfred Wallenstein was principal conductor, of Stravinsky's performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 2?  You can hear the first movement here:

https://www.pristineclassical.com/products/pasc101

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On 12/6/2018 at 8:25 PM, Quiggin said:

Actually before Salonen there was an equally refined music director of the LA Phil – Carlo Maria Giulini, from 1978 to 1984, who did a great Don Carlo, Brahms Requiem and Mahler 9th. And way before Giulini there was Otto Klemperer. And of course, Stravinsky and Schoenberg were around and there was the long lived "Evenings on the Roof" series which featured their work. RedCat at Disney Hall, which they're trying to duplicate here in San Francisco, is a kind of successor to that. When I worked in a tiny record shop in Hollywood, Mel Torme once came in and surprised us – we had a big stock of rare jazz LP's (Blue Notes with two digit, pre-zip zone codes on the back) – by buying a box set of Quartetto Italiano playing the Schumann string quartets. Stayed for a long discussion on classical music with my boss.

I was nowhere near California during those times so I am not a witness to that era.  But I envy people who have stories like  these to tell. My hastily written unkind comment about LA  referred to the orchestra of the time Salonen was Music Director. I had the impression that LA Philharmonic musicians did not really understand how Salonen wanted to interpret music or maybe did not respect him enough and sometimes disregarded his guidance to the point of sloppiness.  I don’t think that Salonen was happy and felt fulfilled in that position either. 

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