Dudamel, Dawn Upshaw, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009
Another weekend, another sold-out crowd, another evening of mangled music from Gustavo Dudamel leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic. If we learned anything new this weekend
, it was that the Dud knows more than one way to make perfectly enjoyable music much less so. Yes, his mastery of the loud and oversized may soon be matched by his aptitude for the deliberately and tortuously paced. This weekend’s program was smart enough. It started off with Luciano Berio’s Rendering
, a composition from 1990 in which the composer “finishes” the sketches of a proposed 10th symphony Schubert left unfinished at his death. Unlike a traditional completion for an unfinished work, though, Berio is uninterested in mimicking Schubert’s style. Instead he fleshes things out and fills gaps with his own ideas and music creating a hybrid piece that spans over a century of time with a dynamic dialog about structure. It’s an idea he’s explored elsewhere and most notably in his brilliant completion of Puccini’s Turandot,
the same version that was performed here in Los Angeles a few years ago and is also featured on a 2002 DVD recording of the opera from the Salzburg Festival. Rendering
establishes a fascinating conversation between two very different musical traditions that are working together as one.
Of course, you’d never know it from Dudamel’s performance. Clearly he had a perspective and concern for shaping the Romantic phrases in the piece directly taken from Schubert. When things begin to veer into a modern idiom, the work became mushy and uncertain. Clearly Dudamel felt one side already had the upper hand in this debate. This symphonic work was paired with the two movements that exist of Schubert’s unfinished Symphony No. 8, which closed the show. The phrasing here was so slow and deliberate that life and air seem sucked out of the room. Some of the musicians struggled to find cues in the slow-motion wreckage, which only added to the problems. Saturday's crowd was significantly less enthused than any I'd seen after a Dudamel-led program since the season began - two quick rounds of applause and we're out. Sandwiched between these losing battles was the evening’s single consolation, the soprano Dawn Upshaw. She performed Berio’s Folk Songs
which he originally wrote for then wife Cathy Berberian and that Upshaw recently recorded for DG
. The songs fit well here offering another take on the idea of "finishing" music from another format and it's always a pleasure to see Upshaw even in the midst of such a messy program.
She, like the rest of us, will have to continue through this rough period of the Dud's growing pains. As to whether or not he's picking up anything over the course of these seemingly endless weeks of his conducting, though, is debatable. He certainly has little outside critical input. For instance, LA's most prominent music writer, the Los Angeles Times
' Mark Swed, is increasingly becoming little more than a shill for the L.A. Philharmonic's press department when it comes to Dudamel. Every juvenile excess is cooed over or brushed aside with rose-perfumed praise. This gets us nowhere. If you want to get your kid off the crack pipe, you're going to have to stop forgiving every misstep and praising every charming foible. At least it's good to know that the organization is getting its three-quarters of a million dollars
worth in extra PR spending. How much any of this will eventually benefit the orchestra or the audience remains to be seen.
Labels: LA Philharmonic 09/10