Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Closing Time

June 04, 2007

LA Phil with Salonen and Karel Husa
Photo: mine 2007
Another LA Philharmonic season came to a close over the weekend and I left anticipating the withdrawal that comes with this time each year. (Of course the Hollywood Bowl is a landmark and all, but the acoustics still suck and I am officially tired of the legions of people who can't seem to to tolerate any second in which they are both immobile and not simultaneously eating.) The last weekend was marked with the final two shows in the "Shadow of Stalin" series focusing on the dictator's effect on composers and their music in the 20th century. Friday night featured Eastern Bloc composers who came of age following Stalin's era but who still felt his political influence - Ligeti, Lutoslawski, and Husa. The highlight of this evening was Husa's Music for Prague 1968. Inspired by the turmoil and unrest of the period, the piece is both percussive and disquieting with a dash of hope. Husa himself was present for the performance and made brief remarks from the stage with Salonen. Ligeti's Concert Romanesc and Lutoslawski's Concerto for Orchestra were not of dissimilar veins which left me thinking that despite all of the influence Stalin may have had over artists from this time and place, the series may have been more aptly called the Shadow of Stravinsky.

The big final show of the year on Sunday was a performance of Prokofiev's score for Sergei Eisenstein's film Alexander Nevsky. Eisenstein's effort to return to Stalin's good graces after his lack of success in the West, Nevsky is burdened by the same tropes as much of Shostakovich's works of this period and later: Did they really mean it? Or is Nevsky filled with clever subversive content that is just now coming to fuller light? I'm not convinced this matters much, but this I do know - the film is filled with beautiful images and Prokofiev's score contains numerous wonderful moments played expertly here. On the other hand, though, I have to admit that as a big season ending show, this was a bit of a disappointing choice for me. In recent years, Salonen has wrapped up with his own works or Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, both works that could easily hold one over for the whole summer. Here, though, the LA Phil succumbed to the consistent problem of film music in that the performance became obliterated by one's concentration on the narrative and images of the film itself. When it was over, I felt that I had missed the Philharmonic's part all together. Not that it wasn't great, I just wish they would have been a little more center stage. Oh, I should also mention that Ekaterina Gubanova's 3 minutes or so of performance of the total two hours were exhilarating and easily the high point of the show.

So, now it's time to say so long, for now, to WDCH and the LA Phil till October. I was going to comment more about the season overall, but given the length of this post, I think I'll wait until later.

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