Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Soldiering On

April 24, 2009

Lionel Bringuier, Joshua Bell, and the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

I suppose it was inevitable that, with all of the superb and historic programs at Walt Disney Concert Hall over the last two weeks, the hangover was bound to kick in. And on Thursday it did in spades as the lame duck season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic got under way following the departure of former music director Esa-Pekka Salonen. So what do you follow that up with the following weekend? How about an evening of lesser known French romantic works with an overrated soloist under the young, but very competent hands of Assistant Conductor, Lionel Bringuier.

Well… maybe not. But that is in fact what we got and, despite everyone’s best efforts, it didn’t prove to be a winning combination. Most of the program consisted of French works playing with other cultural traditions such as Ravel’s Alborado del gracioso. Ravel seems easy, but tonight was evidence that in fact it isn’t. Bringuier and the orchestra seemed all over the place, uncertain of where to go. It was a short stint, though, followed by Joshua Bell playing Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole. Lalo’s version of Spanish flair didn’t fare much better, although Bell energetically flew through the work. Things seemed to be missing a certain light fleetness of spirit that would have helped. Sometimes I think maybe I’m judging Bell too harshly, but then he’ll play a souped-up version of Yankee Doodle, as he did this evening, for an encore and that usually takes care of that.

The balance of the evening was dedicated to Florent Schmitt’s La tragédie de Salomé, a work and a composer overshadowed not only by the more musically important opera on the same subject, but also sadly by the composer’s pro-Vichy stance during WWII. The music is big and bright and sometimes quite interesting. But this off-the-beaten-path nugget wasn’t really enough to turn the tide of things. By the time we arrived at the final piece on the program, Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No 1, the crowd was clearly restless and ready to move on. But the band did play on and rightly so. There was a part of me that was just glad to be there to see our beloved orchestra moving on, even if it wasn’t the orchestra’s most shining moment. The program repeats Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.


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