The news is not all bad. Over the usual sour coffee and sweet rolls last week, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced its upcoming season with something close to justifiable pride. It begins to look as if we have a music director once again. (Bet you’d forgotten, by the way, that Esa-Pekka Salonen is not the first-ever Finn to serve here in that capacity. The first was Georg Schneevoigt, who held the post in 1927-29 seasons.) Not that the new young maestro is planning to blow the Music Center apart with a steady diet of tone-rows and synthesizers. The ponderous romantics of the late 19th century still hold sway, as do their musical progeny of more recent decades. The season begins promisingly: four whole weeks before a note of Prokofiev or Sibelius is struck. On the fifth week, however, both composers appear, as if to atone for lost time. Then the goulash really hits the fan: Zubin Mehta in all-Tchaikovsky, followed by Zubin Mehta in all-Strauss. Oh well, this is the programming that sells tickets and placates elderly subscribers. What is more impressive are the flickers of genuine programming originality that shine through the murky pages of the new season’s published plans. I am, I must admit, a pushover for creative program-building, the kind that juxtaposes the devotional aura around Debussy’s “Martyrdom of St. Sebastian” with the dark radiance of the chorales in Hindemith’s “Mathis der Maler” and the Berg Violin Concerto; all three works share a most high-minded program sometime in February. You can also detect a creative hand in linking Gyorgy Ligeti’s “Clocks and Clouds” with the clouds that drift across Debussy’s “Nocturnes,” listed for around the same time. Symphonies of Haydn make a welcome return, after too long away. This wondrously inventive music draws out a sympathetic strain in Salonen, as his Sony recording and his recent adventure with the Symphony No. 80 clearly prove. A Haydn-Bartok program scheduled for March is another neat and imaginative juxtaposition: Hungarian composers two centuries apart, but linked in their love of devastating musical hi-jinks. Yes, it’s a splendid season. Among the guest conductors, the known quantities are no less exciting for being predictable: the marvelous old Kurt Sanderling doing the Beethoven Ninth, Witold Lutoslawski conducting yet another program of his abstruse but intensely civilized music. Anytime you entertain doubts about the cultural integrity of at least part of the Los Angeles audience, remember that Lutoslawski’s visits here, along with those of those other formiable composer/conductors Pierre Boulez and Oliver Knussen, invariably draw large and loving crowds. There is, in all this, a clear suggestion that Salonen’s gifts as music director, his vision of what a symphonic season in a hidebound establishment like the Music Center can and should embrace, are strong and original. The persistent noise, about managing director Ernest Fleischmann’s vision of the Philharmonic as his personal playpen, ought to be stilled by this enticing list. There is, in these prospects, a faint glimmer of a new and strong musical personality come to town. The job ahead will be to keep him happy. One of last year’s stranger stories dealt with the awarding of a prize in the amount of $250,000 to a middle-aged British pianist named David Owen Norris, through the offices of the Irving Gilmore Piano Foundation in far-off Kalamazoo. This was not a competition in the usual sense; the Gilmore judges surveyed the field of worthy pianists in secrecy and chose Norris much to his own surprise. As it happens, I heard Norris at the Sydney Piano Competition in 1981, where he played miles above the level of anyone else there, baffled the judges with a free-choice of contemporary British music instead of the expected Chopin and, not surprisingly, won nothing. Sometimes even in music, however, justice prevails. Norris plays at UCLA’s Royce Hall this coming Thursday. There’s reason to suspect that this will be the most interesting piano recital of the season (except, of course, for Maurizio Pollini at the Music Center on April 1, but that goes without saying). Amid all the moaning and gnashings from the voice buffs at the current dire shortage of star-quality singers, 25-year-old Cecilia Bartoli has emerged with radiant assurance that there is, after all, someone worth hearing in the firmament. Her recital at Ambassador last week, cobbled together at the last minute and, therefore, inadequately promoted, didn’t quite draw a capacity house. Those who were there, however, came away with delighted memories that will not soon fade. Th marvel of Bartoli is not only the way she sings — the voice an idealized clarinet, curling itself eloquently around ravishingly beautiful melodies with awesome accuracy and infectious ease. It is also in the way she seems, so far at least, to have paced her career with caution and intelligence. You think of the most recent phenomenon of her magnitude, Los Angeles’ own Aprile Millo, who soared to the heights as her genuine talent warranted, and almost immediately turned into a parody of herself. Something about Bartoli gives off the message that she is with us for the long haul, as an artist rather than a freak. Her Ambassador concert was all-Rossini: the delicious repertory of songs that occupied him in his late years, plus a couple of arias. The artistry was pure and enchanting; it extended to the Martin Katz’s marvelous support at the piano. Some of the program is duplicated on Bartoli’s latest London record, also a Rossini recital but including the dazzling Joan of Arc cantata. Bartoli also has a Mozart recording, this time with orchestra: arias for both Susanna and Cherubino from “Figaro” and some moments from “La Clemenza di Tito” that will just break your heart. This is what music is all about, or should be.

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