Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Best of Both Worlds

October 31, 2009

Christoph Eschenbach, Christian Tetzlaff and the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

Christoph Eschenbach may be many things, including a bit unpredictable on the podium. But given the overall quality of his performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic over the last few years and you might wonder why he isn’t leading the orchestra as the new music director. (Not that I think that would be a good idea, I’m just saying….) This weekend is another one of those incredibly strong outings from Eschenbach sans score and avec some pretty wonderful playing from our favorite hundred or so musicians. And lucky for us, it was being recorded for iTunes. The evening was book-ended by Dvorak – the Carnival Overture for starters, and Symphony No 9 for the main course.

Things got off to a big start. Often, those 10-minute intro pieces on a program often seem like little more than an excuse to give latecomers a few more minutes to show before the main course. But not here. The Carnival Overture was a wallop upside the head for an audience who gave a deservedly big ovation at a point in the evening when some of that same crowd would have usually just fallen asleep. This energy was carried throughout and Dvorak's big-ticket Symphony No 9 was very engaging. I think this work is often presented on these shores in a way that's a bit too aware of its purported American influence at the expense of Dvorak's own history. But not here. Eshenbach gave the piece a fresh and rather modern sound like some latter day European work.

In between all this Czech music was Karol Szymanowski's decidedly less overtly Romantic first Violin Concerto played by Christian Tetzlaff. He handled it with ease and no histrionics. But maybe that wasn't totally a good thing. Eshenbach took a dryer, less mystical approach to the score in a nod to its 20th-century leanings. There was still plenty of sweep but this is definitely music that can sound like some strange voice from beyond. It was just a little more earthbound than I would have liked. But nonetheless it was quite enjoyable and one can't argue with Tetzlaff's virtuosity. The program repeats in two matinees this weekend.



Nice review, thanks. Since when has it become remarkable that a conductor doesn't lead with a score? I ask because yours is the third or fourth mention of scoreless conducting I've read in the past several weeks, by different reviewers/commentators. There have been conductors who performed with or without scores practically since the time conductors had become the rule and not the exception, i.e. a very long time ago. It is more a matter of preference than a demonstration of anything significant about an individual conductor's capabilities. Sometimes (often, actually) it's easier to conduct from memory, and there can be closer interrelation with the players as a performance unfolds. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that has struck me oddly. I wonder, though, and am curious to know what if anything is up?
Note in the photo that there IS a score for the concerto; just the Dvorak works were performed scoreless. Just a clarification...
Just got back from the LA Phil concert with Eschenbach at the helm. What a joy to hear our orchestra sound balanced and back to normal after being so soundly Dudemized a couple of weeks ago. How "Christavo" was able to make goosebumps appear during the largo in the Dvorak 9th without grimacing, dying swan arm movements, leaping in the air, and doing the farmer in the dell dance, is beyond me.

Tyra Borda's America's Next Top Conductor winner is back next week with the Verdi Requiem, which alas seems to play into all his weaknesses.

¿Otra vez Gustavo?
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