There's an ocean of ink being spilled over Esa-Pekka Salonen's departure as music director of the LA Philharmonic and if you've never seen this man lead this orchestra you've missed an opportunity to experience music performed at the highest level. Friday's performance of the penultimate program featured Ligeti's Clocks and Clouds, Beethoven's 5th Symphony and the world premiere of Salonen's own Violin Concerto, written for visiting soloist Leila Josefowicz. It was one of the best concerts I've ever seen.

Clocks and Clouds was pure Ligeti- haunting, compelling and strange but beautiful. The Women of the Los Angeles Master Chorale provided gorgeous harmonics to accompany the orchestra's perfect rendition of Ligeti's aural depiction of Dali's melting clocks dissolving into wispy clouds. Or something like that. Salonen, under which the LA Phil first performed this piece in 1993 (six other Ligeti pieces have been introduced during his tenure) was completely in control of this difficult work, guiding the orchestra with fluid hand movements.

Next came the four-part Violin Concerto, written for Leila Josefowicz, which was only completed last month- so close to the premiere the notes on the piece had to be inserted into the program. That Josefowicz committed this hugely demanding piece to memory in such a short time and played it with thrilling brilliance, solidifies my opinion of her as one of today's top-tier musicians. She's in a class by herself.

Salonen's program notes describe this music better than I can, so I'll leave that to him, but Josefowicz was a woman on fire. Her left hand stalked her violin's neck like a tarantula loaded on adrenaline and crack, playing with an intensity that was thrilling to watch and hear. She tore through the fast parts and then the orchestra's strings would answer her in huge sweeping swell of minor chords. The use of a full drum kit in the 3rd movement, Pulse II was an exhilarating addition. The orchestra was marvelous throughout, especially the bass and horn players. The only time I can remember being so enthralled by a new work was at the premier of John Adams' El Nino.

During the intermission I wondered how Beethoven's 5th was going to work after what preceded it. I remembered a performance I once attended in SF where Temirkanov led the SFS through a blazing account on Shostakovitch's 8th, then followed it with the 5th and Beethoven actually seemed puny in the comparison rather than complimentary. The programming worked however. The LA Phil performed the 5th as a kind of straightforward, this needs no fuss from us because it's already perfect showcase of how well this orchestra can play. The tempos were consistent, every nuance emerged but was never fussy or precious. There were no winks, nothing cute. Just musical muscle being flexed. They made Beethoven sound relevant and contemporary.

There were well-deserved standing ovations after every piece. Hopefully KUSC will re-broadcast it and if they do, don't miss it. A lot of the LA Phil's live work is also able on Itunes. This was only third time I've seen Salonen conduct the LA Phil. The previous times were the Tristan Project two years ago and a Beethoven's 9th awhile back. These performances rank among the very best I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing.

And so a great era concludes this week.