Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor and composer, moves in for the weekend

Conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen, considered one of the world’s most brilliant musicians, spent four days at UC Berkeley in a Cal Performances Orchestral Residency that became a whirlwind of concerts and appearances featuring some of his own compositions, with performances by the Philharmonia Orchestra as well as student musicians.

Matias Tarnopolsky, Esa-Pekka Salonen, the banda

Above, Matias Tarnopolsky and Esa-Pekka Salonen with members of the UC Symphony Orchestra; below, the backstage “banda” plays during “Wozzeck,” with Salonen watching via computer. (Peg Skorpinski photos)

It was the third season in a row that Cal Performances has brought a preeminent orchestra to campus for an extended visit.

Salonen, principal conductor and music adviser for the Philharmonia Orchestra after leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic for years, opened his residency Thursday, Nov. 8, with a Hertz Hall concert of four pieces he composed and presenting the compositions in a discussion moderated by Cal Performances Director Matías Tarnopolsky. In successive concerts Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Salonen conducted works by Beethoven, Berlioz, Berg and Mahler in Zellerbach Hall; and he closed out the residency by leading the master class, with musicians selected by the Department of Music.

Saturday’s Zellerbach performance of Alban Berg’s Wozzeck featured the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus and the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, among the singers. Members of the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, playing brass instruments off-stage and out of the audience’s view, made up the “tavern and military banda” in the piece. The 25 members of the “banda” and 30 members of the chorus will travel with the Philharmonia Orchestra to Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles to reprise Wozzeck, and the “banda” will continue on to perform with the ensemble at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York.

“These kinds of experiences for our UC Berkeley students are life changing,” said Tarnopolsky. “We are thrilled that one of our most important ongoing goals — the integration of Cal Performances more fully into the university — has been manifested in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

More details about Salonen’s residency can be found on the Cal Performances website. Program notes from the concerts are available in PDF form.