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Salonen Has a Triumphant Homecoming in Finland : Music: The inaugural concert of the L.A. Philharmonic's European tour was greeted by a rapturous seven-minute ovation.


HELSINKI, Finland — Esa-Pekka Salonen couldn't have asked for much more.

When the native Finnish conductor led the Los Angeles Philharmonic through its inaugural concert of a European tour Saturday night, the normally reserved Finns in the audience stood in a rapturous, rhythmic ovation for seven minutes.

"I could really feel the audience," Salonen told the orchestra at Sunday's rehearsal. "It was a historic occasion. I've never seen a Helsinki audience behave like this before."

There were two encores before the night was over, a perfect start to a three-week tour.

Almost 1,700 people packed Finlandia Hall in central Helsinki to hear Salonen conduct the orchestra in its first appearance in his hometown.

The opening concert included Beethoven's Overture to "Die Weihe des Hauses," Witold Lutoslawski's Fourth Symphony and Sibelius' Second Symphony.

Margareta Tolvanen, who seldom goes to concerts, paid $200 for three tickets.

"It was very expensive, but a great experience," she said. "The Lutoslawski and Sibelius were exciting, even thrilling and our 10-year-old son wasn't bored for a moment."

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Philharmonic was to perform Paul Hindemith's "Mathis der Maler" and Anton Bruckner's Third Symphony in a televised concert.

After Helsinki, the orchestra will play at the Royal Albert Hall in London, in the BBC Henry Wood Promenade Concerts, celebrating its appearance there 20 years ago, the first by an American orchestra.

"The Proms are always an amazing experience," said Roy Tanabe, a violinist with the orchestra for 30 years. "The audience really gives us a buzz."

The 11-city tour includes Birmingham, England, Ghent and Brussels, Belgium, and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The L.A. Philharmonic also will play in five German cities, including at the Berlin Festival to mark the final departure of the Allied troops from the city.

"European tours are always very important because it's a real challenge for us to play here," Tanabe said. "The audiences are very attentive."

"Last night was special because Finnish audiences, like the Japanese, are genuine and don't easily get excited. The rhythmic clapping was a step above a standing ovation," he added.

In November, the orchestra plans to tour the United States, hoping to increase its prestige.

Skipping over puddles on a sidewalk, Salonen said the European trip was like a stepping stone for the American tour.

"We are trying to heighten the profile of the orchestra in touring and international exposure," he said.

Finland's largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat wrote Sunday that the L.A. Philharmonic was challenging what are generally considered the five great U.S. orchestras, in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York.

"I'm convinced that Salonen's presence will further improve the standing of the orchestra," said Ernest Fleischmann, managing director of the Los Angeles contingent. "Already, there are people who no longer talk about the Big Five but about the Big Six."

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