Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Ready or Nott

November 09, 2006

Jonathan Nott
Hans Werner Henze
Sandwiched between a slew of plays last weekend was a concert with the LA Phil, conducted by Jonathan Nott, which included Schubert's 6th Symphony, the Brahms Violin Concerto and Henze's Erlkönig. Although the show was a mixed bag, it highlights one of the things I love about the LA Phil. It continues to have a serious commitment to contemporary music and music of the latter half of the 20th century not just in the margins, but in the heart of its week to week programming. Not only did the program include Henze's short piece, but it was headed up by a conductor with a real interest and track record in music of this period. Even at 10 minutes, Erlkönig was the clear highlight of the evening capturing the the driving menace of Goethe's tale without the romantic overtones present in Schubert's version of the story.

The rest of the program, though less exciting, was worthwhile. The Schubert symphony was just fine and dandy, but then there was that matter of the Brahms. The soloist was Joshua Bell, who apparently is a big seat-filler given the size of Sunday's crowd. Apparently he's fully aware of this. On the prior Tuesday, he performed with members of the Phil in a chamber music program that included Mendelssohn's Octet which, with Bell in tow, became more of a violin concerto than a chamber piece. Certainly his playing is virtuosic even if his own cadenzas were uninspired. My bigger problem with Bell is how physically histrionic he is. I might enjoy him a little more if he'd stop dancing around the stage like a meth-addict and just play. I understand his becoming emotional with the music but his jerking and swerving are a disservice. And he's not above giving the people what they want. After the concerto which Hugh McDonald's program notes correctly point out owes more to Beethoven than Paganini, Bell made sure he re-inserted the hyper-virtuosity back into the proceedings with an encore from The Red Violin Soundtrack. In the end, the people who came to see him got their money's worth.

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