Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Suspended Animation

March 07, 2011

Anton Bruckner, painted by Jerry Branton

Bruckner's music was everywhere this weekend. Probably the biggest disappointment of my 48 hours in Chicago was that I did not anticipate that Esa-Pekka Salonen would be substituting for an ailing Riccardo Muti with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra while I was in town. And so I missed out on Salonen leading Bruckner’s 7th Symphony. But I did have a ticket to see the same symphony here in L.A. on Sunday with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel so I got to hear the Bruckner anyway, although after the fact, I can't help but wonder if I had been better off with a few more hours in the Midwest. Like Mahler, Bruckner is a composer whose symphonic works tend to crumble without strict management of their many excesses not the least of which its length. It can be done, though, and was accomplished right here as recently as last May 2009 when Christoph Eschenbach led the L.A. Phil in the same piece with great success. But Dudamel has proven to have little inclination toward reigning things in musically even when it's called for; and much like his Mahler, this Bruckner symphony strained and moaned under unchecked impulses. Dudamel’s penchant for seeing all slow tempos as invitations to the dirge made the first two movements of the symphony stretch beyond plausible recognition Sunday, creating a sort of stupefying effect. Time stopped all right, in a bad way somewhere past the point of cohesive unity. Not that there wasn’t some lovely playing from the orchestra at times. The strings and brass both delivered big bold flourishes when they were called for, and Dudamel again proved he can manage an exciting crescendo here and there. But more often than not the symphony suffered from a turgid flow, which approached a state of suspended animation.

Bruckner was not the only composer on offer in this weekend’s program from the L.A. Philharmonic. As if looking for works as diametrically opposed to Bruckner’s 7th as possible, the orchestra played Webern’s Five Pieces for Orchestra and Takemitsu’s Requiem. These two pieces together occupy little more than 15 minutes of music and pack an awful lot of intensity in the most reserved of musical gestures. Both works, although informed by different musical traditions, are relatively quiet and subdued. These more constrained pieces provided far more engrossing music making and provided a startling counterpoint with what was to follow. Takemitsu’s sorrowful string meditation was lovely and far darker than any of the plodding Bruckner that followed. With less room to maneuver, the orchestra and Dudamel seemed more intent on the bigger picture of these works and neither was overworked in the same way as the mega symphony that laid in waiting.



I escaped the Bruckner death crawl after the 3rd movement. A travesty.
I'm pretty sure Salonen was already scheduled to conduct the CSO this past weekend. I do think the progamming changed a while ago though (Bruckner 7 instead of Mahler 7), so you might have missed it on the calendar that way...

Still, I'm sure you'll get to see plenty of Salonen in years to come in LA :-)
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