Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

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April 17, 2008

Dutoit and Thibaudet
Photo : mine 2008

Let us not forget that the L.A. Philharmonic aims to please. It can’t play Saariaho, Adams, Salonen, and Knussen every night. And while they never pander quite as much or consistently as L.A. Opera, the Philharmonic programs its fair share of greatest hits for the set who aren’t exactly sure when they’re supposed to clap. (Yes, I’m personally trying to destroy classical music with my elitist attitude. If only it were that easy.) Thus tonight began four performances under Charles Dutoit with Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye, Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, and Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No 3 because when else are you gonna use that big French-fry organ when the Philharmonic's around. The guest soloist was L.A. favorite and frequent visitor Jean-Yves Thibaudet, who again brought his admirable and sophisticated playing to these shores. His seemingly endless appearances here suggest he has a true affinity for this city and since he doesn’t really strike me as the Silverlake type, I assume he must be fraternizing in other parts of our fair metropolis. But while no one gets any gold stars for original programming this weekend, the playing met the typical high-standard and Dutoit is no slouch with this repertory. A good time was had by all.

But the orchestra is not the only group at Walt Disney Concert Hall that seemed to be very open and welcoming this weekend. Is it just me or has there been some new major charm initiative from the ushers at the Music Center? For those of you not familiar with our local system. The LA Music Center is the organization that supports the facilities of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the WDCH/REDCAT, the Ahmanson Theater and the Mark Taper Forum downtown. Unlike some arts organizations around the country, they have their own professional “house staff” ushers who work the four theaters instead of volunteers. With significant exceptions, these folks, though often sweet and well-intentioned, are frequently slack-jawed youths who are often likely to be more confused about the seating than you are. (I suppose that not unlike flight attendants this is only an ancillary part of their job and that the ushers are mainly there for our safety.) But lately the blank stares and half-frightened offers of assistance with seating have been joined by something new – unsolicited pleasantries. Over the last few weeks I have been met with “I hope you enjoyed the performance” and “Have a safe trip home” on more than one occasion. While I suppose this generates the illusion of consideration, I’m from the Midwest where we firmly believe that if people are friendly with you, it means they want something and you are best advised to be wary. But hey, what’s the harm – L.A.’s a friendly town right?

Even though it has nothing to do with the previous commentary, I have two other brief WDCH and L.A. Phil notes I want to mention. First, a word of advice for newcomers to the hall: when you are exiting the building from the upper floors, do not be fooled that the management has both escalators running in the down direction in an apparent attempt to aid egress from the building. Stick with your instincts and stay to the right side. The escalators that normally go up and are now running in reverse find this new state abhorrent and unnatural and are highly likely to seize up in protest jolting everyone traveling down on the left-side to a sudden stop. I see this happen on average once a month and, entertaining as it may be, I do fear someone may get hurt.

On a second unrelated note, the Philharmonic has done another of their stealth programming changes. The upcoming performances by Esa-Pekka Salonen over the weekend of May 1 will still include the Brahms second piano concerto with Leif Ove Andsnes. However, the originally scheduled orchestral selections from Wagner’s Ring scheduled to open the evening have now been replaced by Götterdämmerung excerpts which will apparently require the assistance of soprano Lisa Gasteen and will now conclude the program. Curiouser and curiouser.


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