Saturday, September 13, 2003

LA Scene: Esa-Pekka Salonen

(Second in a series of occasional posts on what's going on in LA)


I have been a regular attender of LA Phil events since 1999. I don't know how beloved were our previous music directors but in my experiences the current director, boyish and energetic Esa-Pekka Salonen always gets boisterous cheers from the audience when the final notes float out into the air. The response he receives is far in away more hearty than for any guest conductors and certainly more energetic than for the assistant conductors. I'm not knowledgeable enough a listener to know if the music is actually any better! However, there is one thing I know for sure I give him credit for: his risk taking. It would be easy for him to just program the old favorites and pack the house every night. Indeed, a certain number of concerts are of that variety as it makes business sense. But Salonen routinely introduces the audience to new music by pairing them with the old standbys.

To be honest, sometimes, after the less familiar music undercard has concluded the look on some of the audience members is rather blank as polite applause is given. Sometimes, audience members will look at each other and say aloud some varient of, "What was that?"

But other times, you leave the concert thinking, he is a genius! His unconventional choices gives me a chance to hear music I would probably never hear.

A recent concert I attended was an example where his plan worked very well.

The program included Ramirez's Misa Criolla and Beethoven's Symphony Number Nine.

Check out the audio clips at

Misa Criolla is a Catholic Mass in Spanish instead of the traditional Latin. The music had a definite Latin beat to it along with the sound of South American percussion instruments. The emotional highs and lows and combinations of up-tempo and meditative passages are just delightful and uplifting.

As a scientist, I tend to approach life with my brain and then be aware of my feelings. However, in music, I try to reverse the order and react to what I hear then later, I'll look at the program notes to see the description and in this case the English translation of the Spanish words also. I loved Ramirez's Misa Criolla and bought the CD at the intermission. In particular, I loved the part where the drummer goes bananas in total exuberance for about 30 seconds. What part of the Christian faith is the most central and most amazing thing? You know it. I checked the program notes, that solo part comes in after the chorus sings in the Credo:

Al tercer dia, resucito de entre los muertos;
Subio a los cielos, esta sentado a la diestra de Dios,
Padre Todopoderoso.

On the third day He arose from the dead and
Ascended to heaven where He sits at the right
Of the Almighty Father.

The pairing of music from the Old World with the New World made for quite a contrast in musical styles but the journey takes us to joy just the same.

And can you guess what day this concert took place?

Indeed, on the second anniversary of 9/11. This fact was noted in the program notes and remembered in a moment of silence before the start of the concert. I don't doubt that Salonen was very aware of the calendar when he choose these two pieces for the concert. The Symphony #9 takes you on a journey where musical themes are introduced and discarded and then finally at the end, the explosion of joy in the fourth movement when the choral part starts:

O Freunde, nicht diese Tone!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen
und freudenvollere!
Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us raise our voices in more
pleasing and more joyful sounds!

And the Misa Criolla takes us on a journey as well from our need of mercy in the Kyrie to the Agnus Dei where we acknowlege the lamb who has paid the price for us.

Senor, ten piedad de nosotros
Cristo, ten piedad de nosotros

Lord have mercy on us.
Christ have mercy on us.
Agnus Dei:
Cordero de Dios que quitas los pecados del mundo
Ten compasion de nosotros, danos la paz.

Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us. Grant us peace.

Peace and joy,


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