Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Watch the birdie

May 18, 2008

Peter Serkin, Christoph von Dohnányi and members of the LA Phil
Photo : mine 2008

Wedged amidst the Salonen-led programs that round out this year’s L.A. Philharmonic season is a bit of an oddity. Not in terms of programming or quality or anything, it’s just that suddenly this weekend we found Christoph von Dohnányi back at the podium for a show that included a good bit of Messiaen and the requisite Beethoven symphony. The show was also supposed to include the talents of Pierre-Laurent Aimard who apparently had to cancel due to back problems. I truly love to hear Aimard play, so I was a bit disappointed, but the Phil seems to have impeccable luck in finding replacements and they phoned in Peter Serkin to cover. Not only is Serkin an expert hand in this area, he also dropped the originally planned Janácek opener in favor of an additional bird themed Messiaen work, Petites esquisses d’oiseaux for solo piano. It asked a lot for the typical Sunday matinée audience who had to manage their active TB cases for this but they didn't do too badly. It was well received, and rightly so.

This was followed by the originally planned Oiseaux exotiques for piano and small ensemble. Together the two Messiaen works were quite wonderful. While I prefer Aimard’s perhaps less industrious approach in general, Serkin gave an account filled with curiosity and detail – without a doubt very thoughtful and studied. Dohnányi stayed out of the way for the most part and let Serkin and the Philharmonic players communicate with each other in this language of the birds. Unfortunately, this trend would not continue into the second half of the program where Beethoven’s 3rd was on offer. What can one say? It was Beethoven’s 3rd, absolutely nothing more. Plain as day and easily bowled over by the first half of the program. Having just heard Salonen conduct the work last season, it made one glad that this weekend was only a short detour before he’s back on track with two very ambitious programs between now and the end of the month.

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I too was there, and felt similarly regarding the third - got a much more interesting performance from Dohnanyi and his Philharmonia friends a week earlier in Gotterdammerung.
This 3rd was just there.
But at least the audience showed up for the 2nd half of the concert, while the first half had a MAJOR number of empty or half-empty rows in the terrace section as well as elsewhere in the hall. But the birds were more able to be heard as the TB cases were at a minimum!
Thomas Ades and the Salonen Piano Concerto still remain!!!
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