After 29 years under the iron-fisted rule of just-retired managing director Ernest Fleischmann, the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted its annual glimpse-of-the-future-plus-lunch press conference on Thursday with no leadership anywhere in sight.
Fleischmann had decamped for “somewhere in Europe”; Dutch-born Willem Wijnbergen, who theoretically took over Fleischmann’s post on Monday, was at his new home in Hancock Park in virtual house arrest, awaiting clearance from U.S. immigration authorities to begin his new duties.
Aside from the symbolism, Wijnbergen’s absence didn’t really matter. Symphony orchestras plan their programs three or more years in advance; Fleischmann’s own take on programming — sometimes brave and innovative, sometimes safe and serene — blended with the aspirations of conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, artistic director Rosemarie Gent and new-music adviser Steven Stucky to spell out a 1998/99 season in which, as usual, the symphonic warhorses and new arrivals run harmoniously side by side.
The season opener includes a new work by Salonen himself — subsequent to his “L.A. Variations” that earned critical acclaim in January 1997 — and ends with the familiar, Brahms’ First Symphony. In between, however, comes the second venture in a new alliance between the orchestra and its Hollywood neighbors, known as “Filmharmonic,” an original short film by Renny Harlin to a score by a composer as yet unnamed. The movie connection continues through the season, in music by Erich Korngold and John Williams, and in a second “Filmharmonic” work, by filmmaker Paul Verhoeven with music by Jerry Goldsmith.
Guests for the season include Britain’s Anne Manson, Japan’s Jun’ichi Hirokami, Finland’s Sakari Oramo and German-born St. Louis Symphony conductor Hans Vonk in their Music Center conductorial debuts; Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie in a Percussion Concerto commissioned by the Philharmonic from composer Roberto Sierra; and welcome returns of pianist Martha Argerich and violinist Gil Shaham. Much-loved pianist Mitsuko Uchida takes on two works in subsequent concerts in November, Alban Berg’s knotty Chamber Concerto and Beethoven’s titanic “Emperor” Concerto. Gadfly director Peter Sellars’ semi-punk production of Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale,” first seen at the Ojai Festival in 1992, will be fully mounted at the Music Center and then trucked into several Los Angeles neighborhoods.
Further down the line, Salonen announced his intention to take a sabbatical during the calendar year 2000. He’ll compose an opera to be produced by Sellars, slated for the summer of 2002 at France’s Aix-en-Provence Festival and later that year back home as a giant step for the usually conservative Los Angeles Opera. Part of the sabbatical, Salonen announced, will be spent at home in Brentwood, “where I can still keep an eye on the office,” but with the conductor’s baton out of sight for the duration.