Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

To The South

June 06, 2010

Leila Josefowicz and Carl St. Clair with the Pacific Symphony
Photo: mine 2010

I don’t get down to Orange County for performances quite as often as I should, so this Saturday it seemed an ideal time to take a break from the daring and groundbreaking Ring cycle going on in Los Angeles to hear a concert with the Pacific Symphony under its music director of 20 years, Carl St. Clair. St. Clair was in the news here recently after resigning the music directorship of the Komische Oper in Berlin before his contract had expired over conflict with the liberties taken by a stage director in a production of Fidelio he was conducting. Which is fair enough, but complaining about the extent of Regietheater at the Komische Oper is kind of like quitting your job as a vice cop in Hollywood after realizing that you would come across a lot of prostitutes. In any event, the scope of his job with the Pacific Symphony calls for much less boundary pushing where the typical season is filled to the rafters with familiar favorites. This weekend was no exception with Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye, Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and a Mozart Symphony.

And while there may not seem to be much of a thread here between these easy-to-swallow favorites, there was a moderate outlier in the mix this weekend in the form of John Adams’ Violin Concerto, played by soloist Leila Josefowicz. The Pacific Symphony is no stranger to the works of American composers and Josefowicz is one of the biggest advocates for this work and she has played it all over the world, including Los Angeles, with amazing fire and dexterity. Her Pacific Symphony engagement was no exception, and she preceded the performance with brief comments from the stage, giving an overview of the work’s highlights. Given Josefowicz’ nimble and certain approach, it’s important for the orchestra to come ready to do some serious business. And they did get around to it, though I must admit after the rather sleepy Ravel opener, it took a couple of movements for the ensemble to really catch up with the soloist. The third movement, though, was spot on. The rest of the show was warmly played without too much fuss. I’m always a sucker for the Firebird Suite, and St. Clair did deliver some powerful big moments without overdoing the whole thing. So for a break from Wagner, it wasn’t a bad night at all.


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