Christoph von Dohnányi and The Philharmonia Orchestra
Photo : mine 2008
Last night was the first of two performances from London’s Philharmonia Orchestra
at Walt Disney Concert Hall here in Los Angeles. This was the group’s debut in the hall, and Christoph von Dohnányi, their current Principal Conductor, led the performance. Of course, this position will soon be vacated only to be occupied by the L.A. Phil's soon-to-exit music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen, starting this Fall. So, in some ways, this show was kind of like meeting your ex’s new boyfriend shortly after he’s dumped you. Of course, this is completely unfair considering that Salonen has a long-standing relationship with the Philharmonia and it's certainly not the matter of his leaving Los Angeles in order simply to take on another conducting position in London. Still, seeing the new, younger, sexier occupant of your former position can rub against the grain. Salonen was there last night sitting next to Peter Sellars who is in town for who knows what. But, while the L.A. Philharmonic big wigs and press were all there, apparently the locals didn’t get the memo in that there were more than a few empty seats throughout the hall.
The show itself was rather meat and potatoes – Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 and Mahler’s First. Why you ask? Hell if I know, but there it was. Dohnányi gets a bad wrap in some circles, but his leadership here was completely reasonable if not always ideal. The Mendelssohn was no-nonsense. Brisk without airs, this very young-appearing orchestra played a spirited and totally sensible version of the work. Mahler, of course, is always the greater challenge in that his music is anything but sensible and sooner or later decisions are going to have to be made. Dohnányi came out swinging with a surprisingly aggressive account at times. Not that it was sloppy or insensitive, but a little overpowering and unnecessarily loud in spots. The players clearly had a lot of spirit though and in the end seemed to pass the most important test – they acted like they truly cared about what they were playing and looked like they were having a heck of a time doing it. On balance, not a half-bad evening. Tomorrow’s even less interesting program includes Beethoven’s 5th and Schumann’s 1st for those who may be interested.
Labels: Dohnanyi, LA Visiting Orchestras