With Esa-Pekka Salonen returning for a second weekend to the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s podium, and with me trying to kill an hour before tonight’s all-Shostakovich program begins at Walt Disney Concert Hall, I thought it was time to fulfill a promise I made in a prior discussion; namely, to compare Mr. Salonen’s penchant for conducting new music when he was Music Director against that of his successor, Gustavo Dudamel.
It should go without saying to anyone who has followed the classical music scene since, say, the mid 1980’s, that Mr. Salonen has a strong reputation for being a proponent and advocate of new music. His leadership in this area helped propel the LA Phil into the forefront of major orchestras in not only its willingness to play such music, but also to draw a regular and, eventually, enthusiastic audience to these concerts. This was not just limited to the concerts that Mr. Salonen conducted himself, but also in the programming of entire seasons and his strong support of the orchestra’s Green Umbrella series. On top of that, there is the matter of Mr. Salonen himself being a composer of importance; not only was he awarded this year’s prestigious Grawemeyer Award, he became the first person to have conducted the world premiere of two Grawemeyer Award winning compositions (his own Violin Concerto which won this year, and “Neruda Songs” by Peter Lieberson in 2008).
He remains a towering figure in the local music scene, and the LA Phil and Mr. Dudamel have much to be thankful for when it comes to Mr. Salonen’s impact on the orchestra’s current success.
Now then . . . reputations aside, how do Messers. Salonen and Dudamel compare head-to-head as music director when it comes to conducting the LA Phil in music written in the past 40 years or so? After all, unlike his predecessor, Mr. Dudamel’s reputation was not made on advocating new music — there’s no way he’d stand up, right? The results may surprise you. They surprised me.
I compared the last three years of Mr. Salonen’s tenure as Music Director vs. Mr. Dudamel’s first three years in the same capacity. It turns out that the number of recently composed works conducted is roughly comparable between the two composers. If one were to compare sheer numbers, Mr. Dudamel actually leads. Summary results, showing number of pieces 40 years old or newer that were scheduled* to be conducted plus any additional pieces that are somewhat close:
- 2006-07 (Salonen): 9 + Lutoslawski “Concerto for Orchestra” and Ligeti “Concert Romansc”
- 2007-08 (Salonen): 7
- 2008-09 (Salonen): 13
- 2009-10 (Dudamel): 13 + Estévez “Cantata Criolla”
- 2010-2011 (Dudamel): 6 + Messiaen “Turangalîla”
- 2011-2012 (Dudamel): 11
*One thing to note: I used the planned list of programs as announced at the beginning of each season, regardless of whether or not the piece was actually performed. For both conductors, certain works were announced but not performed due to composer’s inability to complete the works.
There are roughly equivalent numbers of small, medium, and large works.
Also, I make no value judgements on the quality of the pieces being performed nor on the strength of the interpretation by the conductor. I merely wish to point all of this out to help facilitate continued discussion on these two conductors.
With that in mind, let the commentary begin.