Esa Pekka Salonen is leaving the Los Angeles Philharmonic after one of the longest and most successful tenures of any music director in American orchestral history. I think I am one of the original American fans of EP – I had the opportunity to work with him more than 25 years ago, when he conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra for the very first time. His incredible impact on the music profession and on the musical life of Los Angeles can not be overstated, and I think what makes him such a compelling artistic personality is the virtually unique combination of being a musician always looking toward the new, but also the inheritor of a truly great tradition – that of a master composer who is the musical leader of a community. His music has already reached and moved so many people – the Piano Concerto, the LA Variations, and many other works are wonderful creations – and his interpretation of great works by other composers of the past and the present reflect his compositional mastery. Of course he is a truly great conductor and leader of orchestras, but it is his devotion to, and his understanding, sympathy and deep admiration of the composer that makes him such an inspired interpreter. I feel truly privileged to have worked with him on many occasions, and very fortunate to have his music to listen to. Long live Salonen!
I have been having a wonderful time going to hear opera – this year at the Met, the thrill of an unforgettable Tristan and Isolde, a beautiful – and new to me – Thais by Massenet, and a deeply touching Eugene Onegin. During the Tchaikovsky I realized that the audience expectation and behavior is the complete opposite of what we are used to in the concert hall. At the end of virtually every aria, there was wild applause, which often had little to do with the actual action on stage and certainly no connection to the story line. In fact, in many opera performances, the music that follows a “big” aria, such as Don Jose’s declaration of love in Act 2 of Carmen, is not even heard by the audience because applause is still going on, and in any case, the impact of the wonderful harmonic change from the D flat to Carmen’s “Non, tu me n’aimez pas”, with the amazing D flat to G, presaging a grand finale in C major, is just lost on us. Mimi’s aria introducing herself to Rodolfo suffers the same fate, because we are yelling “Bravo!” after his having introduced himself to her. And yet, the impact of the story is still there – I am always in tears by this time, and a little applause just gives me time to blow my nose.
If this is all OK at he opera, why should we sit silently by as Evgeny Kissin or Yefim Bronfman finish a movement of Rachmaninoff or Tchaikovsky which should bring us to our feet, and gets a few coughs and rustles instead? Here is my “modest proposal” – let’s trade audiences between the Met and Fisher Hall for 4 weeks, and ask everyone to follow what they would do in the other hall. The only thing we have to make sure of is that Messrs. Bronfman and Kissin don’t sing the Tchaikovsky Concerto and that Karita Mattila does not play any octaves. Although you never know…with their talent, they can all probably do both!
All of us love applause, and so we should – it means that the listener LIKES us! So we should welcome applause whenever it comes. And yet, we seem to have set up some very arcane rules as to when it is actually OK to applaud. I have been trying to find out exactly when certain listeners and performers decided that applause between movements would not be “allowed”, or at least would be frowned upon, but nobody seems to have been willing to admit that they were the culprit. Certainly when a composer like Beethoven wrote the symphonies and piano concertos that we hear today in the concert hall, he himself expected that if a movement ended with a flourish, such as the first movement of the 5th piano concerto, the audience would leap to its collective feet and let the composer (and pianist) know that they had triumphed. Mozart often wrote to his family that certain variations or sections of pieces were so successful that they had to be encored immediately, even without waiting for the entire piece to end.
I really hope we can go back to the feeling that applause should be an emotional response to the music, rather than a regulated social duty. I am always a little taken aback when I hear the first movement of a concerto which is supposed to be full of excitement, passion, and virtuoso display (like the Brahms or Beethoven Concertos), and then hear a rustling of clothing, punctuated by a few coughs; the sheer force of the music calls for a wild audience reaction. On the other hand, sometimes I wish that applause would come just a bit later, when a piece like the Brahms 3rd Symphony comes to an end – it is so beautifully hushed that I feel like holding my breath in the silence of the end. I think that if there were no “rules” about when to applaud, we in the audience would have the right response almost always. Most composers trust their listeners to respond at the right time, and if we feel like expressing approval, we should be allowed to, ANYTIME! Just one favor – even if you don’t like a concert of mine, please PLEASE applaud at the end anyway.
It is a real challenge for anything that is awaited with great anticipation to actually live up to the excitement. After the thrill of performing in the new Disney Hall, I can only say that for me, it has surpassed all my expectations. In the most exhilarating way, it inspires awe without forcing us to be reverent.
The sound of the hall seems very clear and beautiful to me, but I have always thought that my ear is also very influenced by my eyes; Disney Hall is truly astonishingly beautiful. There is something about those silver petals that just makes you want to be inside them, and the inside is every bit as exciting.
The stage is close to being in the middle of the hall, so that the performers are surrounded by the listeners. I love that feeling, both as performer AND listener – I feel that we are all experiencing the music together, instead of being separated by the footlights. Maybe this design is what gives the Disney such a feeling of friendliness.
I have been coming to Los Angeles since 1975 to perform, and well remember when Disney Hall was just an idea – more of a dream than a project. It is so exciting to see it really there, a wonderful combination of science and spirit, for all of us to marvel at and to enjoy. It is also wonderful to see how happy all my friends in the LA Philharmonic are in their new home. I know we wish them and all of us lucky listeners many hours of pleasure and revelation in their new home.
I met Robert Harth at the very beginning of my professional life. I was a young pianist who was called at the last minute to substitute for an ailing Alexis Weissenberg at the Ravinia Festival in 1975. When I arrived at the Chicago airport, nervous and wide-eyed, Robert, the newly hired driver for the Festival, met me at the gate. By the time we arrived at Ravinia, a half-hour later, I had fallen under his spell, as so many of us did.
Robert had a wonderful ability to include everyone he met in his enthusiasm and love of life. His work at Carnegie Hall was a culmination of major achievements all across the world of music – he was a linchpin at the Los Angeles Philharmonic for many years, and brought an energy and vision to the Aspen Music Festival that were unequaled – and everywhere he made lifelong friends. At the funeral on Tuesday, one could see the richness of Robert’s life just by looking around and seeing the loss written on everyone’s face.
The last time I spent time with Robert was simply a lucky coincidence – we found ourselves called on jury duty on the same day in January, and I spent two days in the jury room, waiting to be called, having lunch, talking to him about the exciting season that he was about to announce, and his happiness with the Carnegie Hall administration. He was really proud of the way that the administration and the board had come together to form a family devoted to each other and to the future of the Hall, and of the music world in general. Here was a man who had a mission, and looked forward to many years of important and fruitful work with good friends. Three weeks later, he was gone.
I feel very lucky to have had that time – Vietnamese food and all – and I will miss, most of all, coming to hear a concert at Carnegie and being greeted with a joke and a hug from my teddy-bear friend. Distraught as we are now, in time I know that our memories of Robert will be happy and inspiring ones, and that he will be a part of our lives always.