Smile Politely

A perfect marriage of maestro and music

On the evening of November 6, if you can tear yourself away from those early election returns, Urbana’s Krannert Center has an alternative to a steady diet of political fodder, an evening of superlative classical music. Maestro Esa-Pekka Salonen will perform an evening of Beethoven and Berlioz in the Foellinger Great Hall with the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Since 2008, Esa Salonen has been Principal Conductor of this great London-based orchestra, but, many on this side of the Pond remember him from another venue, his seventeen years as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. From 1992 to 2009, under Salonen’s leadership, the foundering Los Angeles Philharmonic gained world class status, performing 973 concerts, 23 tours, and debuting 120 musical works at both U.S. and world premiers. During this era, he also established himself as a composer with such works as his violin and piano concertos and his massive orchestral work, Foreign Bodies. In 2009, Salonen became the first and only Conductor Laureate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

It seems this horn and composition student from Helsinki, Finland, was destined some day to lead the great London-based Philharmonia Orchestra when he was called at the last minute to replace an ailing Michael Tilson Thomas for a performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony in 1983. Salonen had never studied the score, and yet his conducting was a triumph that night. Worldwide recognition soon followed, and within a year he had two positions: conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic and principal conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra. A great career was born.

But, Salonen’s defining evening always stayed with him. He was appointed principal guest conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra from 1984 to 1995, and in 2008 he was named Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor. Here was a reunion of a modern legend with one of Britain’s great post-war artistic creations. Established in 1945 by Walter Legge, the Philharmonia is one of the most recorded symphony orchestras in the history of modern recording, with over 1,000 recordings to its name. Add to that Salonen’s own recording legacy of two and half decades and you are looking at an additional 200 recordings.

More than one British critic has suggested the Philharmonia was an orchestra created for the recording era, and their output testifies to that fact, as the Philharmonia immediately joined the move to record its symphonic repertoire. Salonen’s years with Los Angeles were marked by an astonishing output of quality recordings that moved the Los Angeles Philharmonic into the front line of great symphony orchestras. This new artistic partnership could be the perfect marriage of maestro and music.

On November 6, the first visit of this remarkable artistic union could soothe the ears of many a weary listener from the taunts of a political season that was only slightly shorter than the Ming Dynasty.


Esa-Pekka Salonen and Philharmonia Orchestra will perform Tuesday, November 6, at the Krannert Center Foellinger Great Hall. The performance is at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices vary.

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