Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Bowled Over

August 01, 2007

Michael Tilson Thomas
Photo: Lori Shepler/LAT 2007
So at long last my Hollywood Bowl season got underway last night, with (what else) Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Or at least that is what it sounded like through the amplification. I'll be completely honest up front. I can't stand listening to anything other than pop/rock sorts of music at the Bowl. Despite the Bowl's heritage and charm, the acoustics are awful, the amplification seems to make things worse, and there is perhaps no single venue in the country more dedicated to Americans' need to eat everywhere at all times. Unlike cowbell, crinkling wrappers and clinking glasses do not add to the musical experience in every situation. And did I mention the parking...

So why do I subject myself to this? Well because I love our hometown world-class orchestra and there's always a small number of programs that are actually worth seeing. Tuesday was one of those as Michael Tilson Thomas was down from San Francisco to lead the show and when he conducts the LA Philharmonic in any venue, it is a good time to go. It was a very good program - not the most inspired ever, but quite enjoyable for an all Beethoven program. He started the program off with musical excerpts from King Stephen and the Bundeslied, or the Beethoven equivalent of show tunes, which were surprisingly effective and for one brief moment actually made me look forward to seeing Fidelio when it opens the LA Opera season this fall. The 9th itself was decidedly non-fussy and MTT pulled an unsurprisingly brilliant performance from the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Not bad for a night's work.

The four soloists, most of whom were borrowed directly from the Golijov and John Adams opera factories, included soprano Jessica Rivera, mezzo Kelly O'Connor and bass, Eric Owens. Owens, in particular, was fantastic. He is rapidly developing into one of the most important vocalists in America, if not the world, and if you haven't had the extreme pleasure in seeing or hearing him in one of the new opera roles written for him in the last several years, you should. He'll be on stage in Chicago this December in Adams' Doctor Atomic (and hopefully in New York after that) and will continue to tour with Adams' latest opera The Flowering Tree. (Rivera who has the other starring role in Tree has been drafted into the role of Kitty Oppenheimer for Doctor Atomic in Chicago.)

MTT and the Phil will be back on Thursday with soloist Thomas Hampson for a program featuring many of his specialties: American legends Copland, Bernstein, and Gershwin. So even if being at the Bowl in many ways feels and sounds like watching the concert on TV, I'll be back again.


I wanted to hear the MTT 9th, yet I would not allow myself the opportunity to endure all the pain of going to the bowl. I just relived my memories of the 9th I heard the Phil do in Disney Hall - a much better, more exhilarating performance all around. And I am an MTT devotee.
Actually would have preferred the Thursday night program, as it was vintage MTT programming. Hope you enjoyed it.
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