Dudamel, 26, to Lead L.A. Orchestra

By Tim Page
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 9, 2007

Esa-Pekka Salonen, who helped turn the Los Angeles Philharmonic into one of the country's most venturesome and admired orchestras during his years as music director, will step down at the end of the 2008-2009 season, it was reported yesterday. By the time of his departure, Salonen will have led the orchestra for 17 years, the longest tenure in its history.

His replacement will be Gustavo Dudamel, a spirited and exciting young conductor from Venezuela who is exactly the same age -- 26 years old -- as Salonen was when he first appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1984.

The Finnish-born Salonen, now 48, who is also a much-admired composer, will continue to live in Los Angeles and make occasional appearances with the orchestra. "I always felt that one day I would have to make the change in my own life, bite the bullet and see what it is to be a composer who conducts rather than the other way around," he told the Los Angeles Times, which reported the developments. "There is nothing drastic or dramatic behind this. I would say it's something quite normal or organic in my case."

Dudamel has been signed to an unusually long contract -- five years. Incredibly, he made his conducting debut only three years ago in a competition sponsored by the Bamberg Symphony in Germany. He made his first U.S. appearance in 2005 with the L.A. Philharmonic and has since gone on to conduct the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony and the orchestra at Milan's La Scala opera house. Next season, he is slated to make debuts with the New York Philharmonic and the Berlin Philharmonic.

"He's definitely equipped with everything one needs to be conductor, and the mind is incredibly agile and quick," Salonen told Times music critic Mark Swed. ". . . The fascinating thing is going to be: What is the world for a 20-something like? It's bound to be very different from my world."

The National Symphony Orchestra is currently involved in its own search for a music director to take over for Leonard Slatkin when he steps down at the end of the 2007-2008 season. The NSO will probably play for at least a year under interim leadership, since principal guest conductor Ivan Fischer is unlikely to be named as music director, according to sources within the orchestra who spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of personnel matters.

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