Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Absolute Zero

November 20, 2009

Dudamel hugs Gil Shaham under the watchful eye of the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Dud-amel pulls out the Mozart. Yikes. This weekend’s show, which included Mozart’s Symphonies number 38 and 41, was probably the worst so far this season. It was certainly the most torturous. To put it in the simplest terms that’s about 75 minutes worth of music and with an intermission, the evening took 150 minutes. And that wasn’t due to an unusually delayed starting time or surprisingly lengthy ovations. It was old-fashioned go-slower-than-molasses pacing. It’s not that Dudamel has no ideas. It’s just the ones he has are typically bad. Both Mozart pieces strained from an effort to maximize their lyrical lines as if they had been composed in the 19th century. There was nothing light or fleet about either performance and the tempos were often so ponderously slow that one movement was nearly indistinguishable from the next. Apparently without the score our young maestro gets a little confused about when they are playing Mahler and when they are not. And while our local print media dinosaur would like to convince you that such conducting nonsense is an expression of adoration or a Viennese flair, the reality is that it's just unpleasant. What I wouldn’t give for just a little variety of approach right now over at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Sandwiched between the tortures, was the Berg violin concerto with Gil Shaham playing the solo part. And through no fault of his own, the piece came off studied and deliberate. Shaham is no slouch and, though he often got run over by the orchestra, there were some beautiful moments here. The concluding movement was especially touching. But it almost seemed that the orchestra stumbled into it. The piece was not what it could have been in more experienced conducting hands and only rarely approached the brilliance one usually associates with the work. If there’s any consolation here, it’s that there are only three remaining Dudamel led concerts for the entire 09/10 season by my count. It’s a sick and twisted world when you start looking forward to visits from Lorin Maazel as relief from the everyday. But so it goes.



A few factual corrections are needed here.
With most repeats observed, which is what was done during that Thursday night concert, this is almost 90 minutes of music, even at brisk tempos. The concert started at 8:07 and ended at 10:21 - that is 134 minutes, including a rather lengthy intermission. After this weekend, Maestro Dudamel is conducting 14 more concerts with 5 different programs at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Then he takes the LA Phil on US tour and also conducts a couple of concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in August.
As for a well-written and truly knowledgeable review of this and other programs, my recommendation is to read Tim Mangan's in Orange County Register and its classical music blog.
Better yet, come to concerts and form your own opinion.
I didn't attend Thursday evening and due to encroaching holidays I'll probably miss this program altogether. Since your inaugural review (which struck a somewhat-less-than glass-half-empty tone, imo) you seem to have turned a lot grumpier and sour of mood re: Dudamel's conducting and interpretations. Well enough, but I'd like to second Ben's recommendation, and in addition recommend Laurie Niles's review commentary @ Violinist.com: http://www.violinist.com/blog/print.cfm?article=10672. Swed may be dancing to the Philharmonic's tune, but other knowledgeable observers also tend to the positive angle. Nonetheless, I continue to value your expert dissent if only for the sake of balance.
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