Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Keep Moving On

April 24, 2010

Dudamel, Kelley O'Connor and members of the L.A. Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2010

The Los Angeles Philharmonic entered the final weeks of a season that has been as much about marketing as it has about music on Thursday and Friday with one of a handful of orchestral programs in their current “Americas and Americans” series. The concept here is an examination of the musical connections between North and South America. Or in the words of music director Gustavo Dudamel, "This festival is one that is meant to link us as a people, so that borders dissolve, and we find those common threads and musical moments which unite North and South America as one. This is our music". And while the composers over the next few weeks are exclusively from the Western Hemisphere, at least on Friday, the influence was still decidedly European in terms of both composition, format, and instrumentation. Granted these were not pieces in the standard repertoire of any major symphony, but they owed much more to their European ancestors than any indigenous influences in the Americas. All of this was under the direction of Dudamel who led with a much calmer and more subdued hand than in any of a string of unsatisfying shows last Fall.

First this evening was the Toccata for Percussion form Mexico’s Carlos Chávez, a surprisingly lyrical work for six percussionists. Chavez was able to produce some beautiful lines in between the beats with instrumentation that more often than not plays a background role on the concert stage. This was just a warm up, however, for the evening’s real centerpiece, Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs. The fact that the Philharmonic programmed this work at all five years after its debut here in 2005 is particularly daring. It appeared then in a performance conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen featuring the late, great Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, the composer’s wife for whom it was composed. Her performance is virtually unassailable as perhaps one of the most moving things ever to have appeared on the WDCH stage. This was undoubtedly a lesser performance, but Lieberson’s work is masterful and if its beauty is to live on, it will have to be performed by others. The L.A. Philharmonic should be applauded for bringing it back in the face of such a challenge. The soloist was the dark-toned Kelley O’Connor who has wowed local audiences in any number of pieces of new music. She gave a strong performance and certainly has one set of balls taking this project on given the circumstances here.

The concert closed with another bit of daring, but far less interesting, programming in Bernstein’s Symphony No.2. Pure mid-Century Americana, Bernstein’s symphony-cum-piano-concerto deals with the search for a spiritual center in the modern world. The soloist was a game Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and he and Dudamel made the best argument they could for the work. Its indebtedness to Copland is clear, but more often than not, it sounds like warmed-over Shostakovich raging along in a chaotic mass that finally arrives in one of those big swirling show-stopping finales. The orchestra sounded particularly tight tonight, especially in works with a fair amount of rhythmic challenge to them. So, even if the overall idea of a characteristic music from the new world seemed elusive on Friday, it was a well played and smartly planned program.



Thanks for an honest and generous commentary, especially considering your general aversion to MOST things involving Mr. Dudamel.

Note in the "Calendar" listing for the April 25 (and 26) Golijov concert that the LA Phil is NOT part of the performing forces. It's the Schola Cantorum de Venezuela and Orquesta La Pasión.
Correction of Anonymous' correction: Golijov's "Pasion" is being performed tonight (April 24) and tomorrow afternoon (April 25).
There are no concerts at the WDCH on April 26.
But there is a LA Phil performance with Dudamel (Adams' City Noir and Mahler's First Symphony) tomorrow evening (April 25) that is not listed in this Calendar at all.
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