When Pierre Boulez conducted the New York Philharmonic in the seventies, he arrived with the intention of revolutionizing the orchestra and shifting the repertory into the twentieth century. In the event, his programming became more traditional as the seasons went by: the subscribers made their prejudices felt. Whether because audiences have changed or because Esa-Pekka Salonen has a better idea of how to make that revolution happen, the 2005-6 season of the LA Philharmonic is the orchestra's most radically contemporary season to date — maybe the most of-the-moment program that an American orchestra has ever devised. There will be four world premieres (Magnus Lindberg, Thomas Adès, Anders Hillborg, Roger Reynolds), a Minimalist festival curated by John Adams (including Harmonielehre, Akhnaten, Tehillim, De Staat, Tabula Rasa, and Glenn Branca's Hallucination City for 100 electric guitars), a return engagement for Adams' El Niño, almost-new pieces by Unsuk Chin, Osvaldo Golijov, Harrison Birtwistle, and Oliver Knussen, late-modern classics like Lutoslawski's Fourth Symphony and Ligeti's Requiem, and, yes, a bunch of symphonies by Beethoven. Composers, not soloists, are the stars: both Adams and Adès have extended residencies. Between the premiere of Doctor Atomic in San Francisco and the Adès-Adams festivals in LA, I'll be more or less living in California next year. With David Gockley, the leading impresario of American opera, moving from Houston Grand Opera to the San Francisco Opera (La Cieca had the story back in December), music will become more West-centric than ever. The lack of creative thinking at New York's big-budget institutions (Carnegie Hall and Great Performers excepted) is all the more striking by comparison.
Photo: Esa-Pekka Salonen, Magnus Lindberg, and other members of the Toimii ensemble perform an avant-garde bunny dance at the 1999 Ojai Festival. I am not advocating bunny dances as a panacea for the problems of the American orchestra, but a few bunny dances can't hurt.