Photo: Chris Lee, NY Philharmonic
When the New York Philharmonic reached out to Esa-Pekka Salonen several years ago to ask him to become an artistic partner, it was not, as many might assume, as a conductor. Rather, he was engaged as the Marie-Josée Kravis Composer-In-Residence, and over the past three seasons, the Phil has performed several of his works, both at Geffen Hall and at Williamsburg's National Sawdust, where he curated the CONTACT! new music concerts this past season.
But, it wasn't until the final few months of Salonen's tenure that he decided to take up his baton and conduct the Philharmonic himself. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to his subscription concerts in April, where he led the Phil in performances of Beethoven and a new work by Anna Thorvaldsdottir. But, I was there a week ago Friday for "Foreign Bodies": a one-off program which the Phil worked overtime to market in the media and on their various social media platforms as "groundbreaking" and "an interdisciplinary extravaganza."
Aside from the music, there was a photo booth filled with feathered masks and plastic horns (presumably for Instagrammers who like to look silly) and Broadway-style sippy cups so you could bring your Sauvignon Blanc (clear beverages only!) into the hall. Not really groundbreaking, but better than the usual.
“The concert experience has become predictable,” Salonen told the Times earlier this month,"and, visually, mostly dead boring...People are quite used to not only following narrative layers at the same time, but also expecting it."
All-in-all, the concert was thrown together in about four months - a flash in the classical world, where schedules are often booked 2-3 years in advance. Still, Salonen wasn't working completely from scratch: his Green Umbrella new music concerts at the LA Phil (where he worked closely with current NY Phil President Deborah Borda) provided a successful template to work from.