Susanna Mälkki and members of the L.A. Philharmonic Photo: mine 2010
Recently, a fellow blog reader and writer asked me whom I might like to see as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic other than Gustavo Dudamel. As regular (or even occasional) readers may know, I am no great fan of Dudamel here in Los Angeles. My efforts to offer his services in an amicable trade for other music directors around the country have been routinely rebuffed by friends and fellow music lovers. I was able to generate a significant number of names for a possible L.A. replacement featuring a wide range of people. But this weekend I realize I forgot one – Susanna Mälkki. A young woman on the rise, Mälkki has proven herself with numerous contemporary music assignments as well as on podiums of the world’s biggest orchestras in recent years. She has been the music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain since 2006. The Finnish conductor made her local debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this weekend in a varied program that showcased both her affinity and acumen with contemporary music as well as her ability to martial a steady hand and firm control of a big Romantic masterwork.
The new music on the program was a U.S. Premiere of a Los Angeles Philharmonic co-commission from composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. Hammered Out
received its first performance earlier this year at the Proms in London and like much of Turnage’s work, it shows an interest in popular American musical idioms. While jazz influences are common for him, Hammered Out
is particularly infatuated with the kind of rhythmic devices used in contemporary popular R&B. Turnage himself mentions the influence of artists such as James Brown in a work like this and the intersecting percussion and horn parts made for an energetic cacophony if not one usually associated with the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Mälkki rose to the occasion here keeping everything together. Tight playing is one thing for a 5 to 20-piece ensemble backing up a singer like James Brown. Doing the same thing with nearly 100 orchestra musicians is quite another, and Mälkki exercised great control.
At the other end of Sunday’s program was another large scale work, Richard Strauss’ Also sprach Zarathustra
. Certainly, it’s a familiar piece for the audience, and Mälkki kept the tone poem firmly rooted in its Romantic heritage. Again there was a controlled clarity and even-handedness that has been desperately lacking this season at Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was a lovely energy and a lovely performance. The rest of the show belonged to the first Mozart Violin Concerto with soloist and concertmaster Martin Chalifour. He played with an energetic and appropriately light touch for a work that rested comfortable in the middle of two much bigger endeavors. Let’s hope Susanna Mälkki is one name we see back on programs here soon.
Labels: LA Philharmonic 10/11