Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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


May 24, 2007

Christoph Eschenbach and The Philadelphia Orchestra at WDCH
Photo: mine 2007

The Philadelphia Orchestra was in Southern California for two shows this week: the first on Tuesday at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the second on Wednesday at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Orange County as part of their current tour. Both shows highlighted the exceptional playing of the orchestra under its current unfairly maligned director Christoph Eschenbach. There was ample heat and light throughout the two programs, but unfortunately the question we must face in these times remains: Was it carbon-neutral? Sadly, the answer is no. Not Hummer bad mind you, but more along the lines of a midsize SUV, say, a non-hybrid Toyota Highlander.

What I mean to say is that it seemed that an awful lot of unnecessary energy was expended and to no specific end. Throughout Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony on Tuesday, I kept wondering why the ensemble was so infernally loud. Did they not get the memo about the hall's acoustics? You’d think they were playing in some large abandoned concrete warehouse like say, a Home Depot or Avery Fisher Hall. Really though, it’s unfair to criticize any performance of Tchaikovsky as histrionic. Subtlety is not really a quality much in demand in this musical neck of the woods.

But I think it more fair to criticize their performance of Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major which I got the unpleasant experience of having to sit through twice. The ensemble repeated the work on Wednesday when the originally scheduled appearance of Matthias Goerne, the one real reason to see Wednesday's performance to begin with, was canceled due to a family emergency. This take on Mozart was so blissfully ignorant of the last 25 years of the period practices movement that all that remained was the Mozart equivalent of today's Playboy Magazine - everything is so air-brushed and soft lit that anything once remotely arousing is now dead and lifeless. Where is Nikolas Harnoncourt when you need him?

Of course there were some very good moments, too. The second evening opened up with a serviceable rendition of Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony No.1 despite the hard-swallow look on many of the players faces. The real gem however was the final piece, Brahm's First Symphony. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the group hit its stride by either choice or accident and for one brief moment it was possible to harken back to sunnier days for the group and remember how affecting and moving they can still be. Goerne would have been better, but he'll be back in LA next year if all goes off as planned.

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