Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Bait and switch

October 08, 2007

Salonen in motion
Photo: Lawrence K. Ho/LAT 2007
Sorry about the brief posting pause, but it’s been a busy week. Good, but busy. And one big reason it’s been a good week is that the LA Philharmonic Season finally kicked off last Thursday, and getting back into Walt Disney Concert Hall to hear this country’s greatest orchestra is always a cause for celebration. I did not attend the super-pricey opening gala on Thursday at which Reneé Fleming did that which is her wont. But this is just party music for the once a year see-and-be-seen crowd, so it's no big loss. The real business was to begin this weekend with the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s La Passion de Simone, which was rescheduled after a prior postponement earlier in the year. However, this was not to be, in that director Peter Sellars convinced the Phil that the program would be better presented with the staging intact from its London and Vienna runs. Since dancer Michael Schumacher and a lighting director could not be available this weekend, everything has been put off again until next season.

Needless to say this state of affairs left me feeling not unlike Dawn Davenport on that fateful Christmas morning in Female Trouble. Despite my fondest wishes for this special day- no cha cha heels. But rather than run away from home with a trucker, as Dawn would have in this situation, I persevered with an evening that included the Berio arrangement of Bach’s Contrapunctus XIX, Strauss’ Metamorphosen, and the ever-present Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Salonen made an argument for this program from the stage beforehand noting linking themes of mortality and loss in the earlier works (whether or not intended by the composers themselves). However, whether it was opening weekend jitters or my inability to contend with disappointment, this consolation prize of a concert didn't really live up to expectations. The playing was good overall, but I felt the Strauss sounded a little sloppy and the Beethoven was overly-ecstatic. Saturday’s not quite capacity crowd seemed pleased, though.

Of course, the Saariaho would also have been nice as a lead-in to a whole month featuring works from two of Finland's other greatest composers, Salonen and Sibelius. From here on out, the Phil will be focusing on a run through of all the symphonies, several of the tone poems, and lieder to be performed by Ben Heppner, all under the moniker of "Sibelius Unbound." So despite an arguably soft start, there is plenty to look forward to. Not the least of which is a new music program tomorrow night that will focus on smaller works from Saariaho that should not be missed.


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