Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Mega-Mahler Mania

September 11, 2008

Salonen at the Bowl
Photo: Craig Matthew/Mathew Imaging 2008

Tuesday, of course, was the long-awaited Hollywood Bowl event of the summer. Programming at the Bowl is notoriously light weight but every year at least one or two shows creep onto the schedule where all of us who love our hometown orchestra feel compelled to try and ignore the many drawbacks of this landmark venue in order to catch the “must-see” event. This year, as in many years past, that event was a concert under the leadership of Esa-Pekka Salonen. But, unlike recent years, this show was unique first in that it was Salonen’s final appearance as L.A. Philharmonic music director at the Bowl and secondly because the concert consisted of the legendary and massive Mahler’s 8th Symphony.

So, off we all went and it was a quite large crowd for an average Tuesday Philharmonic show. And while not quite a “Symphony of a Thousand” it certainly involved more than a few hundred choristers and musicians who gave it their all. But alas, as my friend Lou stated, while the show was good, it would have been great at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. But it wasn’t. So between the crackling of the amplification system, the planes overhead, the crying babies and the tumbling of bottles down the stairwells, there was a Mahler Symphony to be heard. It was very well played and Salonen approached it with his trademark clarity even if it did sound like it was being played from a stereo system in the next room.

The soloists in the production was a veritable All-Star cast with the likes of Christine Brewer, John Relyea, Alan Held, Anthony Dean Griffey, Elza van den Heever, Nancy Maultsby, and Elena Manistina. And while these are bit parts compared to some of the big league roles regularly handled by these names, it was a heavenly combination. Of course, the specter of The Philharmonic’s more illustrious winter home loomed large in other ways than simply acoustic ones. The WDCH's architecture also casts a theatrical shadow as well. After years now of clever and inventive placement of performers in the hall, the temptation was too great not to make maximum use of the bowl space. Thus soprano Stacey Tappan, who sang the role of Mater Gloriosa, appeared high above the stage on the catwalk of the giant circular light and audio unit. A relatively small gesture in such a giant space, but a gesture nonetheless.

So, even though the evening was an ending of sorts, I choose to think of it more as a teaser for much more substantial shows to come in Salonen’s final season with the Philharmonic, opening on October 2, providing ample opportunities to celebrate Salonen’s incredible tenure with this organization. Until then, Mahler’s 8th will be on display again on Thursday and there are still seats available.



Went to the Mahler... I thought it was marvelously played, but so much detail lost under the amplification. My biggest beef was the chorus. Even if they're going to be inaudible given the acoustics, I think you're obligated to send out a much bigger chorus. The kids almost outnumbered the adults, you could hear individual voices sticking out, and they just felt woefully underpowered. It was like a Handel sized chorus sent to do a Mahler-sized job. The orchestra sounded great though, particularly the brass & winds. But the impact you want with those BIG ASS organ chords rumbling through your intestines....just wasn't there. Once or twice, almost.
As a member of the chorus (which sounded pretty mighty on the Bowl stage, anyway) I can tell you I'm hoping we can do this at WDCH, and do it with Salonen, returning as guest conductor, in the not too distant future, God willing!
This would be SO GREAT at Disney.
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