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Something special at Royce Hall: EPS vaults the stage

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I was a little jazzed to look across the aisle at Royce Hall last night. Kelly at UCLALive! situated we scribes together, me in front, the Times scribe behind me, and Alan Rich lurking dangerously one more row back. And though I rarely bring her to the west side for classical as I have some friends out there eager for classical tix and Royce Hall, this time indeed Lynn made the trip. ("It's like driving to Irvine," she said while we were stuck downtown...)

That was the right move, because who did they seat me across the aisle from? The Maestro himself, Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Don't worry, we let him sit there unmolested, though the Times scribe, nameless here, did catch some tough questions from him early on.

The program included a Salonen piece from last year; this work was supposed to be heard in Orange County earlier this week, but owning to a death in the family, the quartet couldn't play it there. In fact, it wasn't even sure as last night's program was distributed if the work would be played here. But the Johannes Quartet found an heroic stand-in who learned the work well enough to brave the stage with the Maestro himself in the audience. The insert caused some drama among the scribes and even the Maestro himself, as it didn't include the piece. (You know things are up in the air when even the insert gets it wrong.) But just before they shut the doors I checked with the house manager who told me that Salonen's piece indeed would be heard.

I'm writing of it elsewhere and don't want to blow the musical side of the review here, but here I'll note the surprise gymnastics immediately after the piece, called Homunculus, was finished. As the applause filled the house, ESP himself rushed the stage.

They don't have steps from the audience at Royce Hall, so Salonen had to leap to get on stage. Leap he did, after a running start, hurdling himself up like a gymnast on a vault. In a move that was a little too smooth for someone who has already had an enormous career as a major symphony conductor, Salonen immediately righted himself onstage to take the applause along with the quartet.

Salonen for what its worth stayed through the entire program and enjoyed it much. This is the Guarneri Quartet's farewell tour, and they combined with Johannes Quartet for a Mendelssohn octet in the final piece of the evening. I thought I had heard faint strains of the descending men's side of Handel's Messiah in this octet, but because I was sitting on the aisle with the Maestro, I kicked myself for having such thoughts. But sure enough, on the way out, I heard Alan Rich Himself singing, "And he shall reign..."

Music is best when the unexpected happens, and last night at Royce Hall was full of that.