Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The dark night of the soul and all that

October 18, 2007

LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2007

The LA Philharmonic rolled into the second concert of its “Sibelius Unbound” series on Thursday night with a program that featured symphonies number 4 and 7. Things kicked off with perhaps the single most depressing piece of music in the standard repertoire, Sibelius’ 4th Symphony, in a performance that was both well thought-out, detailed, and oftentimes quite pretty if in an albeit sad way. You know you’re in trouble when program notes start throwing around the word “cathartic,” but kudos must be given to Salonen who made some insightful remarks before the performance inviting the audience to dismiss any claptrap about the work being a reflection on the natural world. The emphasis here was on internal pain, but sometimes it's good to be sad and this was certainly one of them. Oh, and forget Schoenberg. If you want a fount for 20th century music and modernism, Salonen can give you a reason to believe that Sibelius may in fact be your man.

How do you follow this? Well the answer here in LA was a new commission from long time friend Steven Stucky entitled (what else?) Radical Light. While the very pretty and enchanting twenty minutes that followed were certainly “light,” “radical” is a completely different matter. The work seems composed of nearly every orchestral cliché of “shimmering” and light-evoking sounds you can imagine from chimes on down to some of the standard John Adams’ tricks of the trade. While not unenjoyable, it wasn’t really clear to me what all of it amounted to.

For a finale, Salonen and the house band whipped out an exquisite performance of Sibelius’ own 20 minutes of heat and light in the 7th symphony. It was jaw-droppingly good in these masterful hands. The Sibelius series continues to be a real event and you should not miss out on either of the remaining two performances this weekend and next at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.


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