Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Fleet Foxes

July 21, 2009

Juho Pohjonen, Lionel Bringuier, and the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

My Hollywood Bowl season got under way Tuesday with one of those golden nugget of a shows buried among the Beethoven and easy listening favorites that typically make up summer in the Hollywood Hills. It almost feels like an evening intended for someplace or someone else, but there it was, another outing of the Esa-Pekka Salonen Piano Concerto. But this time it was without its composer at the podium or the soloist for which it was written, Yefim Bronfman, at the keyboard. Instead we had the L.A. Philharmonic’s Assistant Conductor, Lionel Bringuier, lead the orchestra with the devilishly speedy piano part left to the very talented young Finnish musician, Juho Pohjonen. The good news is that the piece lives on. In fact, to be completely honest, I liked it much better here than in either of the Salonen/Bronfman performances I’d seen previously. I’ve been somewhat ambivalent about this piece since its premiere, but tonight I felt it really burst into life for me.

Part of it was Pohjonen. Whereas Bronfman attacks the piece with zeal punching through rapid passages in bursts of activity, Pohjonen seemed to take things in stride. His hands were moving faster than anything, but he was calm, cool, and collected throughout the whole run. It was a more connected, flowing interpretation that emphasized the relationships with each of the orchestral soloists who get a chance to interact with the piano directly. Bringuier delivered the work cut from the whole cloth with shimmering fibers instead of patches of arch juxtapositions before. The work with paired with Paul Dukas The Sorcerer’s Apprentice which couldn’t have been a more fitting introduction. The Pairing pointed out the whimsy that can underlie Salonen's work as well with its almost comical references to robot-birds and Stanislaw Lem. That all of this happened in the crappy Bowl acoustics is even more remarkable.

It's worth noting that at least based on last night's performance, someone spent some time on the acoustics issue in the last year. This is the first concert I remember there in a long time that was not marred by the snap, crackle, and pop of amplification problems. The show ended with Ravel's arrangement of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, a work I always feel is about 10 minutes longer than it should be. Bringuier made the most out of Ravel's lush and rather French orchestration. It was a nice start to the season and here's hoping that everything at the Bowl this year comes off this well.



Brian - keep in mind that Bronfman did not have that much rehearsal time to practice the Salonen PC, as it was finished just a couple of weeks before its local premiere. Glad to hear Pohjonen had sufficient time to learn the work and its idiosyncracies and play it with Bringuier who also had sufficient time to learn it back when he understudied it.
But this bowl season is even more tedious than most - may not go once beyond the two rehearsals I will attend.
Well...I've got nothing against Bronfman, I enjoy his playing immensely. However, he had almost a year to practice the concerto before its local premiere by my calculation. The work had its world premiere in New York on February 1, 2007. There were subsequent performances in both London and Chicago before its local LA premiere in 5/08. So not to put too much of a fine point on it, but I think he'd had more than a few run throughs by the time he played it here.
Brian - mixing the piano and violin concertos. She had no time to prepare for the violin, and did very well, yet he had plenty of time, and did not.
And I like Yefim a lot, yet this is not his work.
Still liking the piano concerto MUCH better than the violin version.
Neither over the course of time will ever be remembered as anything beyond anecdotal to a fabulous conducting tenure in LA.

Your comments are welcome and insightful; I too enjoyed the Piano Concerto much more in this performance. Sorry you missed Feltsman playing Prokofiev PC 2 and Paul Lewis in Beethoven's PC 2. Sound at the Bowl is always a chancy thing, but so far, so good!
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