Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Before I Say Goodbye

May 30, 2010

Lionel Bringuier and members of the L.A. Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2010

What a difference a season makes. Why, it was only eight months ago that all the cool kids who write about music put together some piece on the changes in classical music in the U.S. with the arrival of Alan Gilbert at the helm of the New York Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel in Los Angeles. Gilbert, we were told, was an excellent choice, but had work to do to get the N.Y. Phil back on track while Dudamel’s choice seemed a no-brainer. Oh, but how things have changed. Gilbert is conducting three universally lauded sold-out performances of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre in New York while Dudamel has been sent back to the showers after leading bloated old-standards all over the country.

Given this reversal of fortune, it was best that the last WDCH performance from the L.A. Phil for the 09/10 season this weekend highlighted what is, was, and always will be the best thing about them, the great musicians that make up the orchestra to begin with. The program which included the Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, Dutilleux’ Metaboles, and Stravinsky’s Firedbird Suite, wasn’t earth shattering, but it was played exceptionally well. All of this was under the guidance of an exceptionally talented young conductor, Lionel Bringuier, who has the benefit of not having to heal the sick, raise people out of poverty, or fix the gulf oil spill. He just got to do what he does well, lead the orchestra in music without having to stretch it beyond recognition in the service of making some statement.

The Sibelius solo was played by Julian Rachlin with accuracy and skill. Bringuier kept it moving, though it probably could have been a bit more focused at times. The orchestra works in the second half seemed more to his liking. Dutilleux’ Metaboles is one of those works that calls for a huge orchestra but only rarely allows them to play together instead focusing on outbreaks of sound from here and there around the stage. There is an organic feel to the music that seems to develop out of its own workings as the title might suggest. The Firebird suite is always a nice way to close a season and Bringuier made the most of an orchestra that knows its way around a Stravinsky score. It was a lovely show and it reminded me of exactly how much I’m going to miss the L.A. Phil until October when they are finally released from the purgatory of the Hollywood Bowl.



I didn't have the privilege of attending Bringuier's concert, but I can say I have the highest respect and expectations for this astonishingly young conductor. He chooses his repertoire cannily and wisely, and his programs make for a satisfying meal of variety with panâche. I did get to listen to the broadcast of Bringuier's program earlier this season, and was both impressed and excited, especially of the Shostakovitch Sixth. I will miss him greatly when he inevitably departs for a major appointment of his own.
"the great musicians that make up the orchestra to begin with."

But they can't be all that great since they were given low marks by most of the very same critics who also gave thumbs down (or a wavering thumb) to Dudamel.
Have to agree with Anon. here. Sure, the Dude got his share of brickbats hurled his way, but most of the negative reviews also mentioned:

* Thin string tone
* Weak brass playing
* Woodwinds that don't blend together
* An overall lack of continuity between the various sections

I wonder how the principal horn player, William Lane, is still employed here. I went Saturday and he totally botched the start of the great horn melody before the frenzied ending. He produces clams almost every time I go and I just marvel that he's still there.

Loved the Dutilleux, enjoyed the Sibelius though I don't think it's one of his masterpieces and I wish they'd done the whole Stravinsky ballet instead of the suite.

So, no symphony for me until mid-October when The Dude takes on the Turangalila Symphony.
I'm with you on that one. Turangalila is pretty much the next LA Phil show I plan to see as well.
I too went on Saturday afternoon, although Richard Ginell thought the concert was Saturday night in his review.
This program was originally scheduled to have Scriabin, not the Firebird, so Bringuier might or might not have been instrumental in repertoire selection. But the resulting Firebird was indeed a good way to end the season, and the audience rewarded conductor and orchestra a very warm ovation.
As to Lane, he does need to go, and I believe will not return next season. If I remember correctly, the orchestra is looking for 4-5 principal chair players this summer. Did anyone notice how many unfamiliar players there were in the orchestra on Saturday - as in at least 5-6?
Bring on Turangalila!
The orchestra is looking for 3 principal players: trombone, horn and 2nd violin. An offer has been extended to a horn candidate, who is in negotiations with the LAPO.

One of the new faces you saw was the new principal flute, David Buc. Another new principal, Whitney Crockett, joins the orchestra this summer as principal bassoon.

Bill did not "totally botch" the horn solo - he slightly cracked the first note, one time out of three concerts. I know that never happens on your CDs at home, but many fine horn players have scratched that solo in the course of their careers. Honestly, we are all human, except perhaps the folks who don't actually play themselves but are quite adept at passing judgment.
Thank you so much for your updates MrC. I tend to agree with you about the bias that easy accessibility to recorded music has created toward even the smallest imperfections in live performance.

I've tended to stay away from criticizing individual performers in large ensembles like the LA Phil for that reason. And as far as Mr. Lane is concerned, I have nothing but admiration for him considering that I was a horn player myself for many years and know all to well how difficult and sometimes unpredictable an instrument it can be even for those with far more experience and talent than I ever had.
The name of the new principal flutist is actually David Buck.
Thanks Mark. Yep - it is "Buck". My bad - my typing is not so good.

Thanks, Brian, for understanding that the musicians are doing their best, and like anyone else, are prone to misfires on occasion.
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