‘Woven Words’ Celebrates Lutoslawski: Salonen reflects on mentor’s symphonies

Music historians will remember Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) as one of the greatest symphonists of the 20th century. The Los Angeles Philharmonic remembers him as a partner, an artistic collaborator and a regular part of the orchestra’s programming.  

More than that, though, Esa-Pekka Salonen, who served as the L.A. Philharmonic’s music director for 17 years and now is its conductor laureate, remembers Lutoslawski as a longtime friend and artistic mentor.

“He wasn’t technically a teacher because he didn’t have students, but he was a very powerful musical influence in my life,” said Salonen. “He’s been gone for 20 years almost, and I still miss him, and I think of him, if not daily, at least every week.

“There are moments when I would so like him to see something I’ve done, and I would love to get his opinion and criticism and perhaps even approving words from time to time,” Salonen said. “That would be great.”

Instead, it’s Salonen who is uttering the words of praise as part of a worldwide celebration of Lutoslawski, who conducted the L.A. Philharmonic several times, including the 1993 world premiere of his Symphony No. 4, which the Philharmonic commissioned. 

London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, where Salonen currently serves as principal conductor and artistic adviser, has launched a Lutoslawski centenary project titled “Woven Words: Music Begins Where Words End.” “Woven Words” travels the globe in 2013, and Salonen will get multiple stamps in his passport conducting concerts in London; Warsaw, Poland; Madrid, Spain; Vienna, Austria; Dresden, Germany; and Modena, Italy; between January and September of 2013.

Even before the New Year, Salonen returns to his former stomping grounds for a residency with the L.A. Philharmonic that will mark the first American concerts of the Lutoslawski centenary. At the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Salonen will conduct two programs: a Lutoslawski and Beethoven program (Nov. 30 through Dec. 2) and a Lutoslawski, Schumann and Tchaikovsky evening (Dec. 7 through Dec. 9) that also features the West Coast premiere of Salonen’s composition “Nyx.” 

Sandwiched between the two concerts on Dec. 4, Lionel Bringuier conducts the L.A. Phil New Music Group in the Green Umbrella program featuring Lutoslawski’s “Partita” and his “Chantefleurs et Chantefables,” based on the children’s poetry of Robert Desnos. Salonen’s “Homunculus” and Steven Stucky’s “Ad Parnassum” round out the evening. 

Stucky, the centenary’s series adviser, is another Lutoslawski mentee and scholar with Los Angeles ties. He was the composer-in-residence with the L.A. Philharmonic for nearly 20 years. Over the summer, Stucky and Salonen traveled to Warsaw to film a series of short biographical films about Lutoslawki’s life and works for the centenary. 

“Between Esa-Pekka and Steven Stucky, the music of Lutoslawski has really been a thread that has been woven through our seasons,” said Chad Smith, vice president of artistic planning for the L.A. Philharmonic. “Lots of composer centenaries and anniversaries happen each year, and we don’t always feel that’s necessarily the strongest programming impetus, to just celebrate the death or birth of someone. 

“But when we started looking at the season for 2012-13 and with Esa-Pekka’s residency, we thought it would be great to highlight this composer’s extraordinary work.”

Esa-Pekka Salonen

Lutoslawski’s life was equally remarkable. 

The composer, who was not Jewish, was forced to flee his homeland in 1915 following the German invasion of Poland during World War I. Lutoslawski’s father and uncle were executed for anti-political activities when the future composer was 5. Lutoslawski wrote his earliest compositions in 1934 and 1937 and had hoped to continue his musical studies in Paris. 

Instead, he ended up training with the Polish army and evacuating eastern Poland in 1939 during the Nazi occupation. He was imprisoned by the Wehrmacht, escaped to Warsaw and took care of his mother through the remainder of the Nazi occupation. At this point, Lutoslawski made his living performing in cafes, often appearing with his contemporary, composer and conductor Andrzej Panufnik. 

Shortly before the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, mother and son fled to the outskirts of Poland to the little town of Komorów, where Lutoslawski composed a series of canonical studies that could later be traced to his work on Symphony No. 1. 

After the war, Lutoslawski wrote jingle and folk music for Polish radio (his boss was Władysław Szpilman, the subject of Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning film “The Pianist”). But a creative life in Cold War-era Poland came with its own challenges. The Stalinist regime banned his Symphony No. 1 as being “formalist.” Lutoslawski continued with his experimental works and cemented his international reputation with “Musique Funèbre,” in memory of Béla Bartók in 1958.

While still a student, Salonen recalls hearing Lutoslawski speak and conduct in Helsinki, Finland, but he was too intimidated to speak to him. In the 1980s, Salonen was asked to work with the composer on a Lutoslawski weekend program in London, and the two men shared conducting duties. They met again in Bern, Switzerland, and the friendship was cemented.   

One of Salonen’s best memories was in 1989 when his appointment with the L.A. Philharmonic was announced. Lutoslawski, working with the L.A. Philharmonic Institute student orchestra at the time, was present at the event, and he lent some much-needed moral support to the younger conductor.

“He saw that I was completely out of my depth and needed support, and he never left my side,” said Salonen. “I had never been the subject of this kind of attention in my life with media and TV news and radio and cocktails and everything. He was practically holding my hand. 

“Those are the kinds of memories you never forget — having that kind of support from people you admire when you really need it.” 

The maestro’s contribution to the centenary will not end with the concerts; he will be taking on some other unfinished business, too. Early in his career, in 1984, Salonen recorded Lutoslawski’s Symphonies 2, 3 and 4 with the L.A. Philharmonic. During his upcoming visit, Salonen and the L.A. Philharmonic will record Symphony No. 1, and Sony Music will release the entire compilation of symphonies, 1 through 4, as a box set for the centenary in January. 

So that’s the same conductor leading the same orchestra through music by the same composer 28 years apart. With any of the same musicians?

“A few, not many, who were at those sessions in 1984,” said Salonen. “I hope so. I hope they’re keeping well.”  

Symphony No. 4 was supposed to have been part of the centenary performances at Disney Hall, but it was pulled so that Salonen could conduct Symphony No. 1 and complete the Sony box set. There’s a kind of program-changing synchronicity behind that substitution, given how Lutoslawski’s Symphony No. 4 came into the world. 

In 1989, the composer had promised a new work, but would not commit to a financial commission or a written document, not knowing when he would have the idea that would inspire the piece. 

Fast-forward to 1993 when Salonen attended a dinner in Stockholm, Sweden, during which Lutoslawski received an award from the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. At that dinner, the composer told Salonen that, for his upcoming Los Angeles concert, he wanted to change the program. 

Instead of an older orchestral piece, Lutoslawski had a new symphony that he would be pleased to have the Philharmonic commission: Symphony No. 4. Commissions don’t normally come about this way, and Salonen was caught off guard.

“I almost fainted,” recalled Salonen. “I ran to find the nearest pay phone, and I called [then-Executive Director] Ernest Fleischmann and said, ‘Prepare the contract, please!’ Fleischmann told me to take it easy, he’d take care of everything, and then when I went back in, I think Lutoslawski so enjoyed seeing my bewilderment.

“A great memory,” concluded Salonen, who will make more when he takes the stage at Disney, baton in hand, to conduct the immortal music of an old friend. 

For tickets and other information, visit this story at jewishjournal.com.

Letters to the Editor: Prager’s Politics, Bassoonist Has Storied Career

Prager’s Politics

Dennis Prager has again conveniently and simplistically divided his world into good and bad, conservative Republicans being good, liberal Democrats being bad (“A Jew Tours for Romney,” Nov. 2). He then uses this formulation to claim that the conservative Republicans more ardently favor Jews and Israel, than do the liberal Democrats.

What he refrains from stating is that liberal Democrats (Obama) are enemies of Israel and are anti-Semitic, but his implication is clear: His perverted vision of the world is that “virtually all the world’s anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred comes from the left, while virtually all of the greatest supporters of the Jews and Israel are conservatives.”

He is right about one thing: Prager’s warped view of the world will not “matter to most American Jews,” and neither will his attempt to indict liberal Jewish Democrats on the grounds that, in his opinion, they do not support Israel as ardently as one Academy Award winner and his beloved conservative Evangelists (whose social agenda is abhorrent to democratic principles).

Louis A. Lipofsky
Beverly Hills


Dennis Prager responds:

Mr. Lipofsky lies about what I wrote. I never implied, let alone wrote, anything about “conservative Republicans being good, liberal Democrats being bad.” In virtually every one of my columns and my broadcasts I emphasize that there are good and bad people in both parties and among both conservatives and liberals.

Mr. Lipofsky lies about my implying that “liberal Democrats (Obama) are enemies of Israel and are anti-Semitic.”

What I did write is an incontrovertible fact: “Virtually all the world’s anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred comes from the left, while virtually all of the greatest supporters of the Jews and Israel are conservatives.”

If Mr. Lipofsky takes that to mean that I am saying that all those on the left are anti-Jewish or anti-Israel, he does not reason clearly: The fact that anti-Israel hatred emanates from the left does not mean that all those on the left hate Israel. 

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a liberal, has repeatedly asserted this truth about the left and its anti-Israel animus.

For the record, the Gallup poll in March asked American voters, “Are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?” Seventy-eight percent of Republicans chose Israel, 53 percent chose Israel.

Mr. Lipofsky is right, however, about America’s Evangelical Christians being beloved by this Jew. I wonder if there is any instance in modern history of a group of people so decent and so supportive of another group — in this case, Jews — so many of whose members, like Mr. Lipofsky, return that support with ingratitude and even calumny (Evangelicals are “abhorrent to democratic principles”).


For those who do not understand Dennis Prager, perhaps this will help. My son, a young lawyer who worked for a prominent Jewish law firm whose partners predominantly supported the Democratic Party, was once asked by the senior partner for whom would my son vote. My son said that he would vote Republican. The partner was astonished and exclaimed, “How could you vote for the Republicans when they oppose all Jewish values such as support for the poor, gay-lesbian rights, affirmative action for African-Americans and Chicanos, abortion rights and equal pay for women?” My son replied that he would vote Republican because they supported Israel. The senior partner sneered, “The only reason Republicans support Israel is because of the influence of the Christian Evangelicals who dominate the Republican Party, and the only reason the Christian Evangelicals support Israel is because they believe that the establishment of the State of Israel is a necessary precondition for the second coming of Christ.” My son replied, “That’s fine. For now I’ll vote Republican, but when and if Christ comes back to earth, I will vote Democratic.” 

Leib Orlanski
Beverly Hills

Bassoonist Has Storied Career 

The article “Israel Philharmonic’s Storied History” (Oct. 26), in describing the participation in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) of Maurice Surovich, son of co-founder Jacob Surowicz, reported that he “filled in occasionally.” In fact, Gabriel Vole’s uncle Maurice, after a successful career with major British orchestras, joined the IPO as bassoonist in 1960, and continued actively as such until his retirement a few years ago. At 95, he resides with his wife, Fay, in Savyon.

Celia Raven
Los Angeles


The My Single Peeps column profile of Jered F. (Nov. 2) quoted him as saying “my parents cut me off” financially. In fact, Jered said in an e-mail following publication, “My father was in no position to help due to divorce fallout. He and my stepmother have always stood by me, and he is an incredible friend, parent and invaluable ally to me to this day.”

The Circuit

Kollel’s New Home

More than 500 people gathered for the dedication of Kollel Los Angeles’ new home at 7216 Beverly Blvd., in the heart of the Beverly-Fairfax-Hancock Park communities. Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon addressed the crowd at the Chanukat Habayis dedication. Kollel, headed by its dean, Rabbi Chaim Fasman, has been an L.A. institution for 25 years.

Weizmann Double-Header

The American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science hosted a reception featuring Dr. Misha Tsodyks,a member of the institute’s neurobiology department withAllan and Nicole Mutchnik; and Robin and Andy Katzenstein.

Nicole and Allan Mutchnik hosted a Chanukah party reception at their home for professor Ron Naaman of the chemical physics department at Weizmann Institute of Science, and his wife, Dr. Rachel Mamlok-Naaman, associate staff scientist at the institute’s department of science education.

Remembering Sept. 11

Yad B’Yad held its annual luncheon and fashion show benefit at the Olympic Collection. More than 250 women attended the event. The organization raised $25,000 for the victims of Sept. 11.

Israel Philharmonic’s 2001 Space Odyssey

A Dec. 12 benefit by the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra was held at the Pacific Palisades estate of Dennis Tito, who recently made headlines as the world’s first space tourist when he visited the International Space Station via a Russian Soyuz capsule. Violinist Pinchas Zukerman performed at a private recital with pianist Marc Neikrug. The event raised $500,000 for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Power Panel

Gov. Gray Davis announced the appointment of Scott Svonkin, chief of staff for Assemblyman Paul Koretz, as a member of the state Respiratory Care Board Svonkin, Davis and Paul Koretz.

Now We Can All Breath Easier

Women’s Alliance for Israel drew 600 people to its membership forum at Sephardic Temple Tiffereth Israel. “Political Power, A Jewish Imperative?” was the topic at a panel moderated by Susan Estrich, a USC law professor, and featuring Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Temple Valley Beth Shalom; Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob Congregation.

Long Shelf Life

The Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles (JCLLA) has received a grant of $50,000 from the Weingart Foundation. The grant will go toward collection development. With its backlog of 30,000 Jewish items, the JCLLA is among the largest Jewish libraries in the nation, under the supervision of its director Abigail Yasgur and library committee chair Dr. Aaron Willis. JCLLA operates under the auspices of the Bureau of Jewish Education.

New Year’s With the Prez

Rabbi Menachem Gottesman, dean of Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, is the 2001 recipient of the Jerusalem Prize for Religious, Communal and Educational Leadership. The award was presented to Gottesman at the Jerusalem residence of Moshe Katsav, Israeli president, on Jan. 1.

Greenberg’s Close Encounter With Spielberg

Philanthropist Eric Greenberg received the Shoah Foundation’s annual Ambassador for Humanity Award from Shoah founder and chairman Steven Spielberg at director’s L.A. headquarters. Greenberg has donated several million dollars to various causes and organizations.

Peace Now Powwow

Americans for Peace Now held its third annual Yizthak Rabin Peace Award Dinner at the Century Plaza Hotel honoring the work of attorney Luis Lainer and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

The evening, which raised $300,000, helped to bolster the hopes of those who remain committed to the Israeli peace process.

“The making of peace is a slow and deeply agonizing process,” Mitchell said. “There is no cause more noble and just than peace. There is no such thing as a conflict that can’t be ended.”

Mitchell, a former Senate majority leader, chaired peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and led the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee, which recommend ways of encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

Lainer’s pursuit of peace and justice led the attorney to co-found Bet Tzedek Legal Services, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. He serves as a board member for both The Federation and Americans for Peace Now. — Adam Wills, Associate Editor