Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Heavy Lifting

September 10, 2010

What's in the box? Photo: mine 2010

Thursday was the final Los Angeles Philharmonic performance of the 2010 Hollywood Bowl season and it was unusually cold and cloudy. With the shortening days, it felt much more like fall than L.A. usually ever does, so when conductor Bramwell Tovey joked about it being time to get back inside to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, it struck a chord with the audience. Tovey also had the honor of congratulating a few long-serving musicians with the Los Angeles Philharmonic who he reported were retiring after tonight’s show including violist Jerry Epstein, trumpeter Boyde Hood, and Principal French Horn, William Lane. They all received big rounds of deserved applause from the audience for their more than 100 years of combined service and music making with the L.A. Phil. (I did feel it a little odd that the role of thanking them for their artistry in this public forum fell to Tovey, Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, instead of someone from the administration such as Deborah Borda whom I've seen do this sort of thing in the past. But Tovey is certainly a warm and charming personality.)

And if you wanted user-friendly works that gave the retiring brass players a chance to shine, Stravinsky’s suite from The Firebird was an excellent choice for the program. The evening featured dance music of various stripes and kicked off with a solid version of Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, a familiar if enjoyable chestnut. The Stravinsky followed with a warm and large sound which was perfect for the often distancing Hollywood Bowl. Tovey talked briefly from the stage about his history with ballet music and his experience showed. I'll admit this is one of my favorites. This is the second time the L.A. Phil has programmed the piece this year and it is currently scheduled to make a third visit in November at the WDCH.

The second half of the program consisted of the second of a three-part dance commission from the L.A. Phil for pieces set to contemporary compositions. L.A.’s own Diavolo Dance Theater presented Fearful Symmetries set to John Adams’ orchestral piece from 1988. The first work in the series was set to Salonen’s Foreign Bodies and premiered at the Hollywood Bowl in 2007 with the composer conducting. Both works start off from the same place, a large, Borg-like cube occupying center stage. In Foreign Bodies, the cube broke apart into pyramids which the troupe manipulated into numerous configurations, but this time around the cube broke apart into several rectangular blocks. Diavolo can often seem like a troupe of stunt artists or acrobats as much as dancers as they fling themselves about, jumping from heights in conjunction with the large architectural set pieces that dominate their work. They can also appear like furniture movers at times considering the amount of lifting and arranging they do of block elements nearly twice their size. The 10-dancer cast was divided into black-shirted and blue-shirted subsets who often looked like workers from some early 20th-century labor propaganda poster. And while the dance and music were kindred spirits, I felt the orchestra sound here rather sloppy and muddled from its place behind the dancers. Adams music chirps away with a predominating synthesizer which at times sounds rather like a calliope. It was a good program, but certainly sitting in the cold night air, I was relieved that another outdoor season at the Hollywood Bowl had drawn to a close and that the inviting Walt Disney Concert Hall awaits next month.


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