I had a brief conversation with our Music Director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, backstage at the Barbican Centre in London, right after our rehearsal for tonight's concert:
Sibelius Lemmink?inen's Return
Salonen Wing on Wing
Sibelius Symphony No. 2
Esa-Pekka is such a well-traveled person due, in large part, to his professional pursuits as a conductor. I have been curious about his tastes and preferences and how they compare and contrast across such a broad spectrum of locations, such as Helsinki, New York, Cleveland, and Tokyo. But I was most particularly interested in asking him about how he would compare his current home of Los Angeles to his former/future home of London. Esa-Pekka, within the last two decades, has become an Angeleno. This is in spite of his proud Finnish heritage and also in spite of having made his home in London at some point in the past; he will be spending more time in London in the future as the director of the Philharmonia.
When I asked him to compare the two cities, his thoughtful response was that he hadn't lived in London recently enough to make a fair judgment. But I pressed the issue by asking him more specific questions:
How would you compare the symphonic halls of London to Walt Disney Concert Hall?
He said that when he travels to London to conduct other orchestras, "It confirms the same thing that we have always thought?we have a Strad." Being a string player, I appreciated the comparison of Disney Hall to the work of one of the finest violinmakers ever to walk the planet (thank you, Frank Gehry). He went on to compare Disney Hall with many of the other great concert halls of the world, including the Philharmonie of Berlin and Symphony Hall in Boston, and concluded that all these halls do what they were designed to do very well, but ultimately these "other halls are great older halls built for another era and can't take a full modern orchestra. Disney Hall is the best modern hall by far."
How would you compare the LA Phil and the Philharmonia in terms of your mode of communication?
"I have found that I can work equally well with both orchestras. No translation is necessary." I gathered clearly that Esa-Pekka wasn't referring to any barrier of language but rather about something more instinctive. EP is a very non-verbal communicator from the podium, and he feels his "language" is even deeper than English or French or Finnish or even the pattern of the baton. "I have found that there are certain orchestras that I can work with where no 'translation' is necessary. It is not rational but rather extrasensory. There must be a chemistry." Thankfully for us and for our colleagues "across the pond" in the Philharmonia, we speak that "language."
What about food? When in Los Angeles or London, which culinary choices do you prefer?
Whenever I have asked Esa-Pekka a question, he has without fail been thoughtful in his responses. I always feel that the "hard drive" is whirring through thousands of possibilities. But his response to this particular question was concise and immediate. "In L.A., Japanese - in London, always curry. Outside of Japan itself, L.A. has the best Japanese food. Of course, London has fantastic Indian food." When I mentioned that on past tours I had wonderful Indian food in Paris, the look that he gave me was probably the same expression that he would give me after a missed entrance or a wrong note. He is refreshingly clear in his convictions — much as he is in his music making.