Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Neck and Neck

May 06, 2010

Alisa Weilerstein hugs Gustavo Dudamel with members of the L.A. Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2010

It appears that the devastating neck spasm epidemic affecting the classical music world invaded Los Angeles on Thursday night. There had been initial reports of an outbreak yesterday on the East Coast at least if you believe La Cieca over at Parterre Box where it was suggested that neck spasms may have played a role in last minute casting changes on Wednesday at the Metropolitan Opera. Who would have guessed that less than 24 hours later the same shadow would creep across the Walt Disney Concert Hall? The evening started out normally enough. The Los Angeles Philharmonic was performing its penultimate program of the season under music director Gustavo Dudamel before starting off a U.S. tour next week. Originally the program was to have included Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 and the premiere of a new work from composer Stephen Hartke. The Hartke work had been dropped unexpectedly in recent days from the program and replaced with Dvorák’s Cello Concerto, which kicked off the show. The switch was a fortunate one in that it provided an opportunity for the debut of young cellist Alisa Weilerstein who arrived in a red dress with talent to spare. She delivered a splendid performance that was both gentle and rich with the orchestra meeting her at every turn. Dudamel had things well in hand with the orchestra.

Then there was an overly long intermission, followed by unusual comings and goings of staff on stage while the audience and orchestra waited for Dudamel’s return to the podium. Instead, we were greeted with L.A. Philharmonic President Deborah Borda bearing the news that the maestro had become indisposed with “severe pain” from, you guessed it, "neck spasms". Lucky for us, the L.A. Philharmonic is an organization with significant resources of talent, and the consistently excellent Associate Conductor Lionel Bringuier was on hand to take over. Bringuier is no stranger to the orchestra, having led several programs in the past as he will here over Memorial Day weekend in the final L.A. Phil performances of the season. Of course, with such an unexpected switch, some hesitancy is to be expected, and it did sound like conductor and orchestra were getting their bearings in the first movement. But these are world class musicians and things were righted soon enough for another dark and singing performance. The final movement was especially well done with Bringuier holding the audience in silence for several moments. Even with the unexpected, it turned into a lovely night, though clearly there were a handful of folks eager to bail on the show when the promised star was not delivered. It was their loss. But here’s wishing a speedy recovery to Dudamel, whatever the source of his incapacity, and hopes that he’ll return for the rest of this weekend’s programs.



I saw the Tchaikovsky 6 last night. For the first time this season "El Dud" lived up to the hype. I found it electrifying and moving in equal measure. "El Dud's" conducting of the 6th was passionate yet intelligent, a combo he has not displayed in his previous appearances with the LA Phil. The orchestra played like its old well oiled self again. The "conducting animal" Esa Pekka told Debra Borda about finally graced us with an appearance. May this be a harbinger of the season to come!
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