Conductor Salonen dashes from Frank Zappa to Stravinsky

Thu Apr 4, 2013 5:30am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen dislikes musical anniversaries but he is celebrating so many this year he failed to notice one - the 20th anniversary of the death of the anarchic American rock innovator Frank Zappa.

It isn't often that "Mothers of Invention" founder Zappa's rock-and-orchestral score for his film "200 Motels" is revived, but Salonen, 54, will conduct it in October with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, where he served as Music Director from 1992 until 2009, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the orchestra's acoustically exquisite Walt Disney Concert Hall.

The fact that this year also is the 20th anniversary of the 1960s cult rock star's death was something Salonen hadn't realized until it was brought to his attention during a recent interview, but he said he was captivated by the idea of reviving Zappa's complex, multi-faceted piece the minute he saw it.

"I opened the score and the first line I saw was that this town (LA) is 'a sealed tuna sandwich'. I said, 'Okay, you can't say that's not a good match.' I realized this is the LA piece I want to conduct before I die."

From conducting "200 Motels" to Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" might seem a stretch, but not so for Salonen, who will be leading Stravinsky's ground-breaking 1913 masterpiece in the same Paris concert hall only a few days after the evening a century ago that its premiere caused a near riot.

Salonen doesn't much like cultural anniversaries: "Very often these anniversaries, it seems like a duty, we play an awful lot and then after the year is over we've done that." But he's observing none with more relish than "The Rite of Spring".

"The miracle of that piece is the eternal youth of it. It's so fresh it still kicks ass and how many 100-year-old pieces do that? There's such powerful vitality in that music it's almost scary," he said over coffee in London.

"LANDED ON THIS PLANET"   Continued...

Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen of Finland performs on the opening night of the $274 million Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles October 23, 2003. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith