Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical

Gustavo Dudamel and new music: some comparisons to Salonen (Part Two of an ongoing series)

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.

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3 thoughts on “Gustavo Dudamel and new music: some comparisons to Salonen (Part Two of an ongoing series)

  1. Here are the lists of “new” pieces, in case you were curious or wanted to check my math:

    LA Phil and EPS 2006-2007

    DEAN ViolaConcerto(U.S.premiere and LAPA co-commission)
    DALLAPICCOLA Quattro liriche di Antonio Machado
    SAARIAHO Graal théâtre
    SAARIAHO Six Japanese Gardens
    SAARIAHO La Passion de Simone(U.S.premiereandLAPAco-commission)
    ADAMS Naïve and Sentimental Music
    SALONEN Helix (U.S.premiere)
    HUSA Music for Prague 1968

    9 + Concerto for orchestra & Concert Romansc

    LA Phil and EPS 2007-2008
    SAARIAHO LaPassiondeSimone(U.S.premiere)
    SALONEN WingonWing
    STUCKY Radical Light (LAP commission; World premiere)
    MESSIAEN From the Canyons to the Stars
    KNUSSEN Cello Concerto (LAP commission; World premiere)
    STRAVINSKY (arr. Stucky) Les Noces (World premiere of arrangement)
    SALONEN Piano Concerto (West Coast premiere)


    LA Phil and EPS 2008-2009
    ADAMS “This is prophetic!” “Nixon in China”
    “There Won’t Be Trumpets” from Sondheim’s “Anyone Can Whistle,”
    LIGETI “Mysteries of the Macabre,”
    PÄRT Symphony No. 4 (LAPA commission; world premiere)
    SAARIAHO La Passion de Simone (LAPA commission; West Coast premiere)
    ANDRIESSEN Double Piano Concerto (LAPA commission; world premiere)
    FANG MAN New Work (LAPA commission; world premiere)
    ERIN GEE New Work (LAPA commission; world premiere)
    ANNA CLYNE New Work LAPA commission; world premiere)
    ENRICO CHAPELA New Work (LAPA commission; world premiere)
    SALONEN Floof
    LIGETI Clocks and Clouds
    SALONEN Violin Concerto (LAPA commission; world premiere)


    LA Phil and Dudamel 2009-2010

    ADAMS CityNoir(worldpremiere;LAPAcommission)
    CHIN Concerto for Sheng and Orchestra (U.S. premiere; LAPA commission)
    BERIO Folk Songs
    SALONEN L.A.Variations
    HARRISON Piano Concerto
    ADAMS CityNoir(LAPAcommission)
    LIEBERSON NerudaSongs
    LEE FiveRefractionsafteraPreludebyBach,forsologuitar
    NORMAN GranTurismo
    BERMEL New work (world premiere, LAPA commission)
    BROUWER Work for solo guitar TBD
    BENZECRY Newwork(worldpremiere,LAPAcommission)
    HARTKE Symphony No. 4, “Organ” (world premiere; LAPA commission)

    13 + ESTÉVEZ CantataCriolla

    LA Phil and Dudamel 2010-2011
    ADAMS Slonimsky’sEarbox
    GOLIJOV Violin Concerto (world premiere, LAPA commission)
    MACKEY Beautiful Passing (West Coast premiere)
    GUBAIDULINA Glorious Percussion (U.S. premiere)
    LIEBERSON Percussion Concerto (world premiere, LAPA commission)
    GÓRECKI Symphony No. 4 (U.S. premiere, LAPA commission)

    6+ MESSIAEN Turangalîla

    LA Phil and Dudamel 2011-2012
    ADAMS Tromba lontana
    BENZECRY Rituales Amerindios (US premiere)
    VIVIER Orion
    ADAMS Short Ride in a Fast Machine
    CHAPELA MAGNETAR, Concerto for Electric Cello (world premiere; LA Phil commission)
    KURTAG Grabstein für Stephan
    AKIHO Alloy (West Coast premiere)
    PEREIRA Percussion Concerto (world premiere; LA Phil commission)
    BERIO Recital for Cathy
    VASKA Distant Light
    ADAMS The Gospel According to the Other Mary (world premiere; LA Phil commission)



  2. It can also be noted that Maestro Dudamel is not yet 31 years of age; Maestro Salonen is in his 50’s and had worked with many of the composers he programmed.

    Dudamel’s first appointment was at the age of 25 at the Gothenburg Symphony, followed by the L.A. Phil appointment to begin with the 2009-2010 season. He thus has had fewer than five years in which to be involved in the commissioning of new work.

    Work that was premiered at the L.A. Phil during his first two years had been commissioned before he took up his post, i.e., while Salonen was music director.

    Further, several significant pieces commissioned for performance after Salonen’s departure, such as the Hartke, the Lieberson, the Gorecki commissions, could not be completed for performance and so weren’t prepared by Dudamel.

    So a comparison between the two conductors during three years each isn’t instructive. Suffice it to say that Dudamel handled his first premiere performance during the first or second year of his time at Gothenburg and that the Los Angeles Philharmonic plays a significant and perhaps even primary role in the performance of new music in the U.S., and that Dudamel seems likely to continue the tradition, including music of Latin America that Salonen did not program.


  3. Grant, thanks for your comments.

    While it is true that the works conducted in the first two years of Mr. Dudamel’s tenure (and possibly even his third) were commissioned while Mr. Salonen was still MD, it has been often reported that Mr. Dudamel became involved in planning programs once he was named Music Director Designate in 2007. Therefore, I think it is reasonable to assume that he was involved in programming for his inaugural season as MD in 2009.

    You are obviously correct that many of the new works commissioned for last year were not played; however, they were almost all replaced with other current works, so did not significantly affect the count.

    Of course, one of the pieces replaced a world premiere with the Brahms Double Concerto. Similarly, for one of the many cancellations of the premiere of Saariaho’s Passion de Simone, Mr. Salonen chose to program Bach and Strauss as replacements (decidedly NOT contemporary music). Again, the comparison between the two conductors is not significantly affected.

    I agree with you that Mr. Dudamel seems likely to continue the tradition of programming & performing new music in LA, including music by Latin American composers. Going forward, I think it will be interesting to see which contemporary composers (not counting staff composers like Adams or Stucky) that Mr. Dudamel will come back to over and over again the way Mr. Salonen did with Lutoslawski, Ligeti, Saariaho, and Lindberg.


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