Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

I (mostly) Love New York

May 10, 2012

Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Philharmonic Photo: Chris Lee
Most of the great U.S. orchestras have hit the road this season. And while not all of them have made it to the L.A. Philharmonic’s regular stage (Orange County’s Philharmonic Society has had a much greater success rate there), the New York Philharmonic under its recently appointed music director Alan Gilbert arrived in town Wednesday with one of the two programs they’ve been touring with. Gilbert’s time in New York so far has continued to show great promise, although it hasn’t always been delivered on. He’s injected more 20th-century and newer music into the seasons' programming, but it isn’t quite as comprehensive of a commitment for the entire organization to this repertoire as some might have hoped. There’s still an awful lot of the everyday to be heard in Avery Fisher Hall, despite some extremely well received performances of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre. And the orchestra’s summer appearances at the Park Avenue Armory with Stockhausen’s Gruppen are already the talk of the town.

So when the L.A. program includes Dvorak’s Carnival Overture and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 along with the recently premiered Piano Concerto by Magnus Lindberg for Yefim Bronfman, one couldn’t be blamed for wanting a bit more. But then again, any music can make a great program in the right hands. Just take the Mariinsky Orchestra’s performance of the late Tchaikovsky Symphonies in Southern California in 2011. Gergiev and his players produced surprisingly dramatic, demanding performances of some of the most familiar symphonies to a classical music audience. And fair or not, that shadow continued to hang over the New York Philharmonic’s performance to my ear on Wednesday. Gilbert did get a strong, passionate performance from his players. It didn’t skimp on glossy polish at all and could sometimes even be a bit too much with some of the horn players sounding like they were still trying to play against the dead Avery Fisher Hall acoustics instead of the easy, warm Walt Disney Concert Hall. When a cell phone went off in the silence immediately following the second movement, Alan Gilbert looked around for the offending source of the noise with a disparaging mock-frustrated shrug of the shoulders referencing his recent scolding of a patron in the audience with a cell phone going off in a performance of Mahler's Symphony No 9 earlier this year - an event that made a lot of non-music oriented headlines as well.

Of course, the main course for the night was the new Piano Concerto from the N.Y. Phil’s Composer-in-Residence Magnus Lindberg. Lindberg is no stranger to the L.A. Phil stage either and considering what a good friend Mr. Bronfman has been, you’d could be forgiven for forgetting for a moment that it wasn't our beloved L.A. players onstage. The concerto itself is rather a throw back to music of the mid-20th Century; sort of a concert equivalent of a Mad Men episode. It's tonal and rather accessible throughout and surprisingly unvaried over its three movement and thirty some minutes. I wouldn't go so far to say that it was eager to please, but it also wasn't out to make any waves churning along rather blandly until Bronfman's final knuckle-buster of a cadenza in the last movement. Suddenly his hand were everywhere. And wherever they went on the keys it was loud. But his remarkable virtuosity and its rather forceful presentation in the home stretch didn't quite make this a piece I'm dying to hear again soon. Though certainly the lovely New York Philharmonic, Mr. Gilbert, and Mr. Bronfman are always welcome on the West Coast and for them, we are counting the days.


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