Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Summer Thaw

July 27, 2011

Vasily Petrenko and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Photo: mine 2011

On Tuesday I kicked off that peculiar L.A. summertime ritual of hearing an orchestral performance at that most iconic if acoustically unwelcoming of American concert venues, the Hollywood Bowl. Besides the legendary bad acoustics and amplification, there is the profoundly middlebrow classical programming that makes the Proms look radical by comparison. But the Bowl overall is a cash cow for the L.A. Phil, so the lighter pop fare of the summer is the price one pays for the regular season’s “Green Umbrella” new music series I suppose. Still, a few worthwhile evenings creep up in the schedule every summer for the orchestra, and Tuesday was the first of those this year. The occasion this week was the return of Vasily Petrenko to the podium in the first of two performances of Sibelius and Dvorák. He's one of the most exciting young conductors in the world and we're lucky to have him in Los Angeles as often as we have in recent seasons. The night started off with a lively and exuberant turn of Dvorák’s Carnival Overture. This was quickly followed by Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 played with soloist Alexander Gavrylyuk. It’s one of those pieces that’s so familiar that I sometimes experience some dread when it shows up on a program. It’s as if all I can think about is all the ways it can go wrong. But what a pleasant and exciting surprise Petrenko and Gavrylyuk provided. The concerto sounded light and nimble, tripping along like some French work. Gavrylyuk showed some restraint at crucial moments like the concerto's opening bars that kept the performance from becoming farcical. That’s not to imply that the Petrenko or the orchestra skimped on the more dramatic moments, but the immediate quality of the performance overcame the obstacles of distance, video and amplification splendidly.

The anchor spot of the evening went to Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2. Petrenko started off with an almost machine-like approach. By this I don’t mean that I found the first movement perfunctory, but instead marked with a somewhat cold precision and exacting approach. Slowly, things began to loosen and warm up over the subsequent movements. By the final Allegro, it sounded like a full-fledged romantic symphony, lush with beautiful playing from the strings. It was a nice showpiece for principal flutist David Buck whose proving to be an especially exciting addition to the orchestra. Petrenko’s precision is a welcomed quality in the unruly acoustics of the Hollywood Bowl. His appearances here in Los Angeles are more and more impressive, and I for one can’t wait for his next trip to Los Angeles. His Thursday concert, which features Martin Chalifour playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto, and Dvorák’s Symphony No. 9 should be worth catching as well if you’re in town.



I agree Petrenko is one of the finest conductors there is- in fact, I'd like him to be the replacement for MTT when the time comes.
Nice read. I tried very hard to rearrange my schedule and make it to the Bowl Tuesday night specifically because I've heard good buzz about Petrenko; on top of that, I'm a sucker for either the Tchaikovsky 1st piano concerto or the Sibelius 2nd, so to have them both on the same program was especially appealing.

Alas, I couldn't pull it off. Damn day job.
Forgot to mention: Totally agree with you on David Buck. We are lucky to have him. The guy who sat in the chair before him was certainly stellar, but I think Mr. Buck is equally so.

I'd put Whitney Crockett in the same boat. Great player, great addition to the orchestra, we're lucky to have him, too.
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