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March 11, 2011


A friend of mine after hearing Gustavo Dudamel conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic recently asked me “What has happened to this orchestra? I don't know where they are headed anymore.” It’s true, the changes of the Dudamel era are afoot and as much as some critics would like you to believe that any differences in the orchestra between today and a couple of years ago are just a matter of different flavors of the same great stuff, this weekend’s program from Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic tells a much more unsettling story. It’s a story of lowered artistic ambitions and the incessant drumbeat of marketing over music. The show that kicked off the weekend was perhaps one of the most questionable programming concepts of the whole season. It included three orchestral “fantasies” by Tchaikovsky based on Shakespeare; Hamlet, The Tempest, and the ever-familiar Romeo and Juliet. Granted it's pretty music, but hardly what you’d call inspiring or thoughtful. It's also a program that is featured on the latest recording from Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra so that the same show has arrived here is no surprise.

To make matters worse, the increasingly star-struck management worked with Dudamel to create the musical equivalent of mutton dressed as lamb. Each of the three orchestra pieces was paired with a short, readily identifiable scene from each play with some bona fide Hollywood stars and all the dramatic lighting you could ask for. Matthew Rhys gave us a bit of the old “To be or not to be” in the requisite unbuttoned collar sans tie which always seems to signify an actor is trying to play the troubled, young Hamlet. Meanwhile Malcolm McDowell channeled both Hamlet’s father and Prospero with the assistance of a script. And in the final segment, Orlando Bloom’s Romeo accosted Anika Noni Rose’s Juliet from across the stage standing in the walkway between the front and middle orchestra sections. Much of the acting, which was directed by Kate Burton, was wooden and the scenes seemed somewhat pointless other than getting a chance to see a star in the flesh. The audience members seated behind the orchestra also got a fair glimpse of Bloom’s exposed midriff as he cavorted in his exhortations of love toward Juliet. And admittedly said midriff just about carried the whole evening which may be the intended effect for a show that will be broadcast to theaters nationwide on Sunday as part of the L.A. Phil Live series.

With so much else going on, it might have been possible to forget there was an orchestra concert going on, but indeed there was. In typical Dudamel fashion, the musical portion of the show was blown up out of proportion to the weight of work itself. The strings dug in and often sounded bright and lovely. There were big swelling moments that were quite dramatic. But there were just as many that were interminably overwrought and slow. It’s hard to imagine how a show with not much more than 60 minutes of music by Tchaikovsky could be so exhausting, but then Dudamel has a way of making even the most unassuming music beg for mercy. The show repeats through Sunday if you're up to it.



Absolutely nothing short of a $500 fee to review could have persuaded me to attend this thing. I'm sorry to have been right about it.
It's not that I dislike the idea of hearing these uber-palatable Tchaikovsky works played together, it's just the need to make so, so much out of so, so little.
That was very unkind, Brian, which is not your usual style so I'm guessing it must have been REALLY awful. My condolences.
Your comments weren't unkind, just spot-on. The Philharmonic is very disappointing of late, which is quite sad. Mr. Dudamel repeatedly proves himself to be very uneven. I would hope that the great quantity of talent on that stage would also want for more.
In what way was it "one of the most questionable programming concepts of the whole season"?
Combining music with excerpts from the plays that the music was inspired by and based on - seems like the most natural programming decision to me.
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