Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

No Ordinary Love

October 15, 2010

The Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel, Jean-Yves Thibuadet, and Cynthia Millar Photo: mine 2010

This is a big weekend for big music with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The only work on the program conducted by music director Gustavo Dudamel, which kicked off Thursday night, was one of the 20th Century’s towering masterpieces, Messiaen’s Turangalila-symphonie. Just about everything about this work is big. At eighty minutes, it calls for a huge orchestra, it has a fiendish piano part, played here by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and it deals with some heady concepts like love, death, joy, and transcendence. Composed in the late 1940s as a commission for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the piece is one of three on themes taken from the Tristan and Isolde myth. Turangalila is what Messiaen himself called a “love song” but it encompasses so much more than simply physical or spiritual love. It is equally interested in the relationship between love and death, the human and the infinite. There are passages of a fragile celestial beauty set against others far more terrestrial with frightening almost lumbering themes. Of course, choosing such a scope unavoidably places Turangalila in the shadow of Wagner’s great opera on the same legend, but Messiaen’s orchestral work is just as ambitious if not as equally daring.

Dudamel, and to a similar extent Thibaudet, are not names one typically associates with 20th Century music of this sort. And while Dudamel has conducted 20th Century and contemporary music here in Los Angeles on several occasions, it is no secret that many audience members who’ve come to cherish the L.A. Philharmonic’s reputation in this area have been disappointed by his perceived lack of interest and experience in this area. Plenty of music from the last 60 years is still on offer for the L.A. Phil these days, but less and less of it is under the purview of the orchestra’s music director. The Turangalila performances this weekend are a major opportunity to recapture some of this audience, and the crowd was filled with many more young hipster faces than one might normally see on a weekend at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

And overall, things went pretty well. This was a solid, well-intentioned performance throughout. Dudamel’s strengths were on display as he made the most out of the several big climaxes in the symphony and could take your breath away at the end of the “Joie du sang des étoiles” with a massive joyful crescendo. One could certainly have asked for more clarity and precision, however. And while the energy never flagged, there were still balance issues at times. The prominently featured piano part and that of the ondes martenot played here by Cynthia Millar could sound washed out at times as opposed to functioning as searing punctuation in the heavenly proceedings. Still there was a feeling of rapture there. And even if the overall performance wasn't a dream come true, hearing the Turangalila played live may well be - so it would be wise to catch one of the three remaining performances this weekend.



While taking your word - I will be attending Sunday's final performance - I wish you and Mark Swed would both attend that performance and critique the differences.
Does Dudamel really mature through 4 performances plus rehearsals?
I am sure it helped that Jean-Ives and Gustavo had previously collaborated on the work last year in Sweden.
Actually, this particular weekend, I am going back to see the performance again on Saturday. Maybe I'll comment further afterward.
I think Mr. Swed will be returning Sunday afternoon; more than likely, he will report on how things go.
Dudamel sacrifices clarity for bombast every time.
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