Orchestral conductors, like so many of the finer things in life, often aren’t fully appreciated until they’re gone.
Take Esa-Pekka Salonen, who spent 17 years as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. While he was never less than admired, it gradually became easy to take his sharp intelligence, creative programming, and restless spirit for granted.
The L.A. Phil is now in the wonderfully expressive hands of Gustavo Dudamel, and Salonen — when he isn’t busy composing — is primarily focused on his role as principal conductor and artistic advisor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra.
His American tour with that ensemble will continue with a performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique at the Granada Theatre Friday night. For ticket information, go to camasb.org.
Tuesday evening, Salonen and the Londoners made their only appearance at Walt Disney Concert Hall — which, of course, the conductor inaugurated in October 2003. (Later that season, he led the L.A. Philharmonic in an exciting rendition of — wait for it — Symphonie Fantastique.) Their performance of some fiendishly difficult music was utterly spellbinding.
The program was a concert version of Alban Berg’s chilling opera Wozzeck, which moves back and forth between tonality and atonality in remarkably expressive ways. While the anguished portrayal by baritone Johan Reuter of the title character was the highlight of the evening, the Philharmonia — especially the brass, woodwinds, and percussion sections — consistently dazzled.
The big orchestral interlude that occurs just before the conclusion of this shattering work rose from a whisper to a roar with spectacular precision and expressive power. Salonen and this ensemble are clearly a superb match.