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Monday, April 25, 2016

The Finn Steps In

Esa-Pekka Salonen to conduct 2017 MET Orchestra concert sat Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Esa-Pekka Salonen makes a point. Photo by Clive Barda.
The music landscape of New York City underwent another tectonic shift this week, as Carnegie Hall announced that the conductor of three performances by the MET Orchestra next season would be Esa-Pekka Salonen, taking the place of outgoing Metropolitan Opera music director James Levine James Levine for three scheduled concerts.

The sudden (but anticipated) announcement by the Met earlier this month that James Levine would retire from the post of music director sent shock-waves through the music world. Mr. Levine spent forty years as the Met's music director. Although he will conduct three operas next season, his new post of "Music Director Emeritus" will not carry the same weight or long hours as his current duties. This week, he is currently leading Die Entführung aus dem Serailhis last opera as the company's music director.

It was Mr. Levine who instituted the practice of having the Metropolitan Opera's crack pit orchestra play concerts at Carnegie Hall (where they, at the insistence of general manager Peter Gelb) are billed as "The MET Orchestra." These performances are among that venue's most popular events, and served as a springboard for Mr. Levine's comeback in May of 2013 after a two-year absence.

In the spring of 2017, Mr. Salonen will lead the MET Orchestra in three concerts. The first will feature tenor Matthew Polenzani and mezzo Susan Graham in an all-Mahler program: selections from the song cycle Des Knaben Wunderhorn and that composer's Symphony No. 1. The second concert offers Schumann's Rhenish Symphony (No. 3) alongside Brahms' First Piano Concerto with soloist Maurizio Pollini. The series (and the season end with a triptych of Sibelius works: Symphony No. 6, Symphony No. 7 and the Violin Concerto with soloist Christian Tetzlaff.

The Finnish composer-conductor does not have long experience of the Met, having only conducted two operas there in his three decades as an international conductor. He led From the House of the Dead in 2009, and this season leads the company's new production of Strauss' high-powered tragedy Elektra. Both productions are by the late stage director Patrice Chéreau. A review of Elektra will appear on this blog in the next two weeks.

Mr. Salonen is an acclaimed composer and conductor who (it is believed) was heavily recruited by the New York Philharmonic. (Eventually, that orchestra settled on Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweeden to take the place of Alan Gilbert in 2017.) Mr. Salonen is currently in the middle of a three-year term as Composer-in-Residence. running through next week. He is also the curator of the NY Phil Biennial, which launches late next month. Although he has repeatedly insisted that he prefers having time to compose, is it at all possible that the right offer from the Met tempt him into the tumultuous (and vacant) post of music director or even principal conductor? Only time will tell.

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