London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, will perform at Zellerbach Hall this weekend. Photo: Benjamin Ealovega
London’s Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, will perform at Zellerbach Hall this weekend. Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

Nearly 50 years ago, composer Igor Stravinsky sat in the audience at Zellerbach Hall, nodding vigorously as his “Symphony of Psalms” and “Oedipus Rex” were played to celebrate the opening of the concert hall. This Sunday afternoon, London’s Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen will recreate that inaugural concert.

The Sunday concert is the conclusion of the Philharmonia’s three-day residency at Cal Performances, consisting of three concerts, a master class with the UC Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, and a virtual reality adventure that puts participants in the middle of a Salonen performance.

The Philharmonia residency also marks the launch of Cal Performance’s Berkeley RADICAL “immersion” thematic strand, which will this year cover Stravinsky, Beethoven (Salonen will conduct the “Eroica” symphony on Friday) and the human voice, heard in both the opera-oratorio “Oedipus Rex” and “Symphony of Psalms.” 

“This is repertoire that Esa-Pekka is absolutely wonderful at conducting,” said Alastair Mackie, joint principal trumpet and interim managing director of the Philharmonia. “It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is. Stravinsky has a particular rhythmic drive, which is something Esa-Pekka particularly connects with.”

As a trumpet player, Mackie is particularly enthusiastic about the orchestra’s all-Stravinsky Saturday night concert, which includes “The Rite of Spring” and “Symphonies of Wind Instruments,” as well as the lesser-known “Agon” and the thoroughly obscure “Fanfare for Three Trumpets.”

“I’m a trumpet player and I’d never heard of it,” Mackie said.

When “The Rite of Spring” premiered in 1913, it famously provoked a minor riot at the Ballet Russes in Paris. It has long since entered the standard orchestral repertoire, but Mackie says it’s still a challenge for many conductors.

“Esa-Pekka does it with such apparent ease,” he said. “It’s effortless virtuosity from a conducting perspective. It’s something about the energy of the music and the energy of Esa-Pekka.”

The Philharmonia has established a reputation for being particularly innovative in audience development, with engaging websites (including one focused on Stravinsky) and a well-developed social media strategy. The orchestra is bringing one of the most interesting of its innovations to Cal Performances, with an immersive, virtual reality experience open to the public on Friday afternoon and open to ticket holders before and after the concerts as well as during intermission.

Using virtual reality headsets and binaural microphones that allow you to focus in on a particular player, section, or hear the detail of the score pages turning, the VR experience places participants directly onto the stage in the middle of a Philharmonia performance of Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, conducted by Salonen.

Salonen recently spoke about Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Wind Instruments”:

The Philharmonia will perform at Zellerbach Hall on Friday, playing Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony and Sibelius’ Fifth Symphony, and Saturday and Sunday with all-Stravinsky programs. For tickets, go to or call the ticket office at 510.642.9988.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...