With a flick of his baton, Esa-Pekka Salonen, the maestro of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, began the orchestra’s 75th anniversary season. But if there is a rule of thumb you can follow about Salonen’s style, it’s expect the unexpected.
Unwilling to simply create a feel-good concert for the orchestra’s celebratory event, Salonen designed a program that would develop slowly and conceptually over the course of the evening. He incrementally increased the size of his orchestral forces, while musically moving from a landscape of deep shadows toward an explosion of pure, extroverted joy.
He opened with a brief fanfare from Arnold Schoenberg’s mighty “Gurrelieder.” These glimmerings of brass gave way to the somber medieval textures of Igor Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms,” a probing, introverted work that relies on winds, low strings (no violins or violas) and choir (the L.A. Master Chorale) to create a dark, soul-searching landscape.
But the mood changes after intermission with Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 in D Minor (Choral) that was clearly intended to be a celebration of deliverance and joy — Beethoven at his emotionally charged best; an interpretation that paid due respect to detail but emphasized drama.
The second movement, Molto vivace, was just that –“full of life.” And the third movement, Adagio and Andante, emerged as a gently flowing stream of melodic sense and sensibility.
In the final movement, bass-baritone Gregg Baker was joined by the combined choruses of the L.A. Master Chorale, the Korean Master Chorale and the William Grant Still Chorale. They were then joined by soprano Faye Robinson, mezzo-soprano Carmella Jones, and tenor Howard Haskins. The effect was radiant and overwhelming.
In the end, through his choice of music and the multiracial composition of the ensemble, Salonen seemed to be saying that we, as a community, need to find our way; to move out of the shadows and toward a new harmonic unity. This was his Happy Birthday message to Los Angeles.