Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Light at the End of the Universe

December 05, 2010

Stéphane Denève Photo: Drew Farrell/RSNO

It was another very good weekend at the Los Angeles Phiharmonic. I don’t know if everyone is feeling inspired after Esa-Pekka Salonen’s two week visit or if it's just the holiday spirit, but Saturday’s concert with guest conductor Stéphane Denève was often outright exciting. Denéve is currently the music director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and will soon take over the reigns at the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra. His tenure is Scotland has been hugely successful with marked increase in subscription rates and revitalized programming with contemporary works around every corner. Given Los Angeles audiences familiarity with this mix, he has been a perennial favorite visitor here. And this weekend's visit was one of his best. Oh sure we’ve got more of his curly, floppy page-boy hair thing here than we know what to do with on an average week, but Denéve brings much more to the table than those who share his coiffure.

He kicked off this program by talking to the audience from the stage about Guillaume Connesson’s Une lueur dans l’âge sombe, the first selection on that afternoon's program. Denève recounted how the idea for the composition grew out of a discussion he had with the composer about an article in a science magazine regarding the light astronomers have seen from one of the most distant stars known to them. This light at the edge of the darkness became an inspiration for 20-minutes of impressionistic music that contained many familiar elements for music about space (like tinkling celesta) and some that weren’t like a theme based on an Indian raga. Denève demonstrated his love and interest in new music in just a matter of minutes creating interest and excitement in the crowd with just a little guidance and a few words. (Now see how easy that was?)

Following this was the more earth-bound but equally French music of Claude Debussy who Denève has apparently not had a conversation with prior to the composition of Ibéria. It was splendidly played nevertheless with a luxurious sweep and lovely engaged playing. With so much success, the after break feature may have seemed like an afterthought, but wasn’t. The orchestra was joined by American pianist Nicholas Angelich for Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto. Things were kept under and energetic control between the soloist and orchestra for a solid performance. Angelich wasn’t one for fine detail or clarity, but he got his point across and the balance with the orchestra was good.


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