I have a dear old friend, an impresario by vocation, who calls at the last minute to say he’s off to the opera… the ballet… the symphony. Do I want to go? I do! And I am charmed by this man who knows so much about music yet irredeemably pronounces Mozart as “Mo’s art.” He’s also deaf in one ear — so no stereo. I walk, or sit, on his good side, and he reminds me that he’s better off than Beethoven, who had suffered almost total hearing loss by symphony number five. But when circumstances call for a genial gibe, I suggest visiting the Leaning Tower of Pizza.
Robert Friedman and I were introduced in 1980 by a mutual friend when he and his then-wife Suzanne gave me a place to stay in their San Francisco home during a visit from LA to photograph the Symphony’s then-music director, Edo de Waart, whom we dubbed Edo Divorce because he’d been married six times.
Before I moved to the Bay Area, seven years later, I photographed five conductors who had been or would later become San Francisco’s maestro: de Waart, Seiji Ozawa, Herbert Blomstedt, Michael Tilson Thomas, and Esa-Pekka Salonen. I photographed Salonen in 1984 when I was thirty-two, and he was a twenty-five-year-old wunderkind making his guest-conductor debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
Leaping ahead to February 29, 2020 (the leap year is merely coincidental), San Francisco’s MTT has just retired after twenty-five years and passed the baton to Salonen, whose honorifics now include Conductor Laureate of both the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. This evening would mark his debut as Fog City’s home-team maestro. He would be conducting his own composition, a violin concerto commissioned by virtuoso Leila Josefowicz, who would join him on stage at Davies Hall to play it. That, too, would be a San Francisco first and, therefore, as premieres go, a double whammy. That’s a musical term.
Robert kindly remembered my shoot with Salonen thirty-six years earlier and — again at the last minute — called to suggest that I might enjoy an encore encounter. Absolutely! On the drive downtown, we planned a backstage visit after the concert to pay our respects to the orchestra’s new boss.