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Philharmonic Music Directors: An Eclectic Mix

August 14, 1989|DANIEL CARIAGA | Times Music Writer

Ten distinguished musicians--from the English-born Walter Henry Rothwell to the Berlin-born Andre Previn--have preceded Esa-Pekka Salonen at the helm of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Except for the title music director, and the fact that some of them were acknowledgedly second choices, the 10 have little in common. One, however, like Salonen, came from Finland.

Rothwell, chosen by Philharmonic founder and chief financier William Andrews Clark Jr. as the orchestra's first music director in 1919, was offered the job when Clark could not get his first choice, Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Rothwell led the Philharmonic until his death in 1927.

The Finnish conductor Georg Schneevoigt succeeded Rothwell for a two-year period, ending in 1929 with the appointment of Artur Rodzinski, at that time assistant to Leopold Stokowski at the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Polish-born Rodzinski led the L.A. Philharmonic as music director for four seasons; he left in 1933 to take over the Cleveland Orchestra.

The celebrated German conductor Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) served as music director of the Los Angeles orchestra from 1933 to 1939, when illness forced him to resign.

After four years of guest conductors, the 45-year-old American cellist and conductor Alfred Wallenstein was appointed music director in 1943. He presided over the orchestra's important decades of growth, a period described by one observer as "both stormy and productive." Wallenstein resigned in 1956.

The Dutch conductor Eduard van Beinum led the Philharmonic--without relinquishing his post as music director of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra--from 1957 until his death in 1959. In his last season, Beinum had taken a one-year leave of absence for health reasons. He died on the podium in Amsterdam. Some Philharmonic veterans have said they consider Beinum's two seasons here--he gave 22 programs in that time--a golden age.

In 1961, Georg Solti was appointed music director of the L.A. Philharmonic. Before he could take over, however, controversy between the Hungarian conductor and the Philharmonic's board of directors erupted.

Without consulting Solti, the board appointed the young Bombay-born Indian conductor Zubin Mehta as Solti's assistant. Solti resigned. In November, Mehta was named music director, taking over in 1962 at the age of 26 and remained until 1978.

When Mehta left Los Angeles to take over directorship of the New York Philharmonic, the 64-year-old Italian maestro Carlo Maria Giulini became the new leader. With assurances from then-executive director Ernest Fleischmann that he would have minimal administrative duties, Giulini came to Los Angeles, he said at the time, with high hopes.

Five years later, after his wife became seriously ill, Giulini resigned. Andre Previn, at that time embroiled in a bitter departure from the Pittsburgh Symphony, was appointed to the L.A. post in the spring of 1984, taking over in the fall of 1985.

Previn precipitously resigned this year. Not long after his 60th birthday, and weeks before the end of the 1988-89 season, Previn announced on April 25 that he would leave his music director's duties at the end of the summer. He left town shortly after that.

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