Salonen to pass baton to young conductor

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The Los Angeles Philharmonic's music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, announced Sunday he will step down at the end of the 2008-2009 season to concentrate on composing.

His successor will be Gustavo Dudamel, a 26-year-old Venezuelan conductor with limited experience conducting a professional orchestra

Salonen, 48, said he will continue to conduct the Philharmonic and other orchestras.

"It is with love and pride that I regard all we have accomplished. As hard as this is, I know now that the right moment has come for me to step down," Salonen said in a statement released by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.

"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.

Finnish-born Salonen's scheduled resignation from the Philharmonic after 17 years would make him the nearly 90-year-old cultural institution's longest-serving director.

He is credited with programing a creative lineup of performances and guiding the Philharmonic into its new home at the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003.

Dudamel, who was signed to a five-year contract beginning in the 2009-10 season, is a relative newcomer. He never had stood before a professional orchestra before participating in and winning a competition sponsored by the Bamberg Symphony in Germany three years ago.

Dudamel's U.S. debut was conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in 2005 and he won over the crowd with his good looks and ebullience. The experience stuck with him, he said.

"Los Angeles was the first orchestra to give me the opportunity to make my U.S. debut at the very beginning of my career," Dudamel said. "The energy was very special from the start, and I love how open to new ideas the orchestra is."

He has conducted since then some of the world's most important orchestras, including the Boston Symphony, and, on Thursday, the Chicago Symphony. He also has conducted at Italy's La Scala opera house.

Salonen said Dudamel was ready to lead the city's orchestra despite his youth.

"He's definitely equipped with everything one needs to be conductor, and the mind is incredibly agile and quick," he said.

Added Salonen: "I could not, indeed would not have made this decision unless I was confident that everything was in just the right place."
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