Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Stomp me if you've heard this one before

February 27, 2009

Sarah Chang, James Conlon, and the L.A. Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating with less adornment. The heir to Esa-Pekka Salonen as the leader of all things musical in Los Angeles is not in fact Gustavo Dudamel. (At least not yet.) No, the person who has more or less already assumed that mantle is none other than James Conlon, the current music director at Los Angeles Opera who is on another hot streak in town this spring where he, not unlike Savoir Faire, is everywhere. He just opened up an outstanding production of Das Rheingold last weekend as the kick off for the city’s massive Ring cycle next year. In April, he’ll follow that up with Die Walküre and Braunfel’s Die Vogel. Next weekend he’ll lead two free encore performances of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde at Our Lady of the Angeles Cathedral downtown. (Forget it. The free tickets are already long gone.) And in between all this, he’s on the podium this weekend over at Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. What can’t the man do? Last season we had a splendid program of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich and this year it’s more Mendelssohn than you can shake a stick at.

Yes, Yes, it’s the whole anniversary business. And do we really need to hear the Midsummer Night’s Dream stuff again? But Conlon does not mess around and gave really sharp, brisk and urgent readings of the works on offer. At the opening was Mendelssohn’s First Symphony, a work never before performed by the L.A. Philharmonic, as Conlon himself acknowledged in comments from the stage, noting he never hears the piece except when he’s conducting it. It’s the work of a 15 year old prodigy who was sadly already at middle age unbeknown to him. Still, the symphony is informed by his predecessors and Conlon made a best case argument for its very classical style. In between this and the inevitable wedding music, was the ubiquitous violin concerto with the even more ubiquitous Sarah Chang as soloist. She’s an attraction I suppose, but not one for me. She stomped her way through Bruch's violin concerto last year to little payoff. This time around a red fishtail frock managed to tone down the floor show, but there was still plenty of contortion to go around. With all of the action, I was waiting for her to take flight, but no such luck. Her Mendelssohn was decidedly earth bound despite the histrionics. But we still had Conlon, and the city would be poorer without him.


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