Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Packing up, Getting ready to go

October 28, 2007

Salonen and the LA Philharmonic about to leave on tour
Photo: mine 2007

This weekend also saw the final performances from the LA Philharmonic in their Salonen-led “Sibelius Unbound” series. The program started out with a bit of a cloud over it in that one of the highlights of the show, and in fact the whole series, was canceled. More specifically, tenor Ben Heppner who was scheduled to sings seven different songs from Sibelius could not appear, reportedly due to illness. This is the second time he has been a no show with the Philharmonic in recent years and this time with so little notice on the cancellation, the Phil had no choice but to abandon the songs altogether. In its stead, we got a 6-minute piece of incidental music, “The Death of Mélisande”. It was a blissful short stretch and made one wish for much, much more, but it was no real replacement for the missing Heppner.

The rest of the program went off as planned with Sibelius’ 5th and 6th symphonies. First up was the 6th – a hoary beast if there ever was one. Difficult to get a handle on, this surprisingly modernist work frustrates at every turn, wandering off and deliberately turning into blind alleys over and over again. Salonen and the Phil provided a thorough and well-thought-out account, but in the end it wasn’t really enough. The piece remained largely inaccessible and impervious to most.

The 6th symphony ended the series and is familiar territory to Salonen, who has programmed it here in the last few years. Sweeping in scope but never histrionic, it was the perfect capstone to a series filled with many joys. I’m not sure in the end exactly how “unbound” Sibelius really became from this series of programs. Certainly these symphonies, which were not familiar to much of the audience got more deserved exposure and Salonen made an excellent case for Sibelius’ position in the development of music in the 20th century. Still, there remain numerous mysteries throughout this music. But, in some ways, that is part of their allure. Salonen and the LA Philharmonic will now be out of town touring Europe with the band, not returning until after Thanksgiving. Here’s wishing them a great and very successful trip.


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