Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Special Seasoning

February 17, 2010


Well, since you asked…I have rather mixed feelings about the 2010-2011 Los Angeles Philharmonic Season that was announced on Tuesday along with the now obligatory microsite and video selections. L.A. Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda apparently traveled to Caracas to film a season preview with music director Gustavo Dudamel that’s included on the site. A friend of mine told me she thinks his English seems to be improving. Let’s hope his conducting is as well, considering the twelve or so programs he’ll be leading in Los Angeles in addition to an international tour in early 2011 with the orchestra.

The good news is that the schedule still features a sizable helping of 20th-century and newer music. There are numerous commissions including concertos from Osvaldo Golijov and Peter Lieberson, a new symphony from Henryk Górecki, orchestral works from Thomas Adès, and a setting of The Importance of Being Earnest from Gerald Barry. There’s also music from Anders Hillborg, Magnus Lindberg, Unsuk Chin, Stephen Mackey, Paul Hindemith, Sofia Gubaidulina, and two extra-large portions of Messiaen. Best of all, early April will bring “Aspects of Adès”, two weeks of programming curated by the L.A. Phil’s newest BFF, composer Thomas Adés. In addition to heading up the most promising of the works mentioned above (including Messiaen's Éclairs sur l'au-delà), the composer will reprise his own In Seven Days with video from artist (and his hawty hubbie) Tal Rosner, which graced the WDCH stage last season. There are also a number of high profile guests worth seeing. I won’t want to miss Bryn Terfel in both a solo recital and a program with the orchestra, Pierre Laurent-Aimard, Leila Josefowicz, Jaun Diego Flórez, Christine Schäfer, Mathias Goerne, and Martha Argerich to name a few. But most exciting of all will be the return of Esa-Pekka Salonen in November for two weeks of shows to feature among other things Wagner excerpts with the aforementioned Terfel and a concert version of Bartók’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle with Anne Sofie von Otter and Willard White.

But don’t worry sports fans. Here at Out West Arts, I pride myself in keeping an eye on the half-empty part of the glass as well. Even with newer music popping up in more programs than not, the majority of the heavy lifting in conducting it will be done by folks other than the music director. Perhaps the biggest exception to this gross generalization are the Dudamel-led performances of Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony. I’m ecstatic that it’s on the schedule, but worry it may not be in ideal hands. Dudamel will also lead at least two of the big commissions (the Golijov violin concerto and the Górecki symphony) in the midst of the rather uninspired sounding “Brahms Unbound” series in May of 2011. As with the previous unbinding of Beethoven a few year back, more Brahms than anyone should have to tolerate will be used to create new music sandwiches with contemporary works stuffed between symphonies, overtures, and the German Requiem. I’ll likely go for the premieres, but I'm not holding my breath on the world being rocked or anything. Otherwise it’s Mahler, Beethoven, Schumann, Bruckner, Mozart, Haydn, Debussy, and a whole evening of Tchaikovsky pieces inspired by Shakespeare. This is an orchestra after all, and that is what they do.

So, despite some weaknesses, things could be a whole lot worse. But perhaps my biggest concern is that this season seems like its been assembled by a committee intent on achieving certain goals rather than by a leader with a specific vision or like-minded small group. Tried and true formulas mixing just enough X with enough Y to keep the other camp happy are rolled out again because this is what has worked in the past, and it’s certainly the way the L.A. Phil has built its reputation over the recent years. And that is not at all a bad thing. To be honest I feel guilty complaining since there appears to be a clear effort to maintain much of what I and many others have loved and continue to love about our local orchestra. But somewhere at the core, there’s a heart and a vision that’s missing. In the arguably very similar seasons programmed under Salonen a few years back, you could sense his hand in everything. As much as I hate to lose that, there's a lack here as if things are being kept alive by a committee after Elvis has left the building. Damned if you do and damned if you don't, I'll be renewing my subscription anyway.



Totally agree with your assessment of the season's good news - what could be wrong with a season including Messiaen’s Turangalila and Bluebeard's Castle?
Guest conducting roster is quite different from this season and last, yet includes Masur and some new blood, yet another good sign.
The Phil has done an outstanding job of getting audiences in LA to really appreciate new music, unlike nearly every other city in America. Who would have thought it - surely not Dorothy Chandler!
The times have changed, and the orchestra is doing its part to match those changes.
But the Brahms programming surely could have been postponed until a future season, as we have already had our Phil of his work this season, including the Berlin perspective on the issue.
Brahms Unbound?? Egad. Wake me when that's over. After that trainwreck of all the Sibelius Symphs packed into a month, i'm a little over these single composer mini-seasons. I did like when they did it with Beethoven, but that was some of the freshest programming I'd ever seen.
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