Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond
The Hungary Games
January 19, 2013
Friday brought the latest frustration in what has been one of the most unexpectedly disappointing Los Angeles Philharmonic seasons in recent memory. Great nights with the LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall have been few and far between lately, and Friday’s program under Pablo Heras-Casado featuring the works of 20th-century Hungarian Composers was one of the biggest let-downs yet. The centerpiece of the evening was the world premiere of a new commission from Peter Eötvös, a violin concerto entitled DoReMi written for Midori. Eötvös has been featured around town all week and his appearances here were some of the most anticipated of the year. And yet not unlike Tuesday’s concert staging of his Angels in America, DoReMi fell far short of its promise. The single movement work does capture a playful spirit as suggested in the title – one concerned with the basic building blocks of music composition. Eötvös is taking a wry wink at the relationship between these most elemental of tones. This playfulness is also reflected in the way other members of the orchestra often share or swap the solo material in various asides or outright duos passed to and between the ostensible soloist Midori and the Concertmaster or even the Principal Violist. At first I wondered if Midori, not a name that leaps to mind when thinking of contemporary music, was picked at random for this project through some new violin concerto generation software. But her virtuosity is never to be taken lightly and she flew into one thorny discordant passage after the next. She clearly dug in with wild swings bouncing to and fro off the other orchestral elements.
Yet oddly, all of this playfulness never amounted to much joy. The piece came off mechanical and frequently muddy. There was a homogeneity to it all as well that left one wanting for a bit more development or direction. Of course, part of the problem here may rest in the hands of Heras-Casado. Despite some exemplary outings with the L.A. Phil in the past, his assails of Kodály’s Háry János Suite and Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra were wanting. There were moments of lush sound, but an edge was missing in both. No hint of folk or ethnic influences here. Instead both works wandered without focus or much direction with the same muddy sound-constrained dynamic range. What should have been a barn-burner was instead reduced to a little night music. And for the lions of 20th-century Hungarian music, that is not enough. Not by a long shot.
Hi Brian, Thank you for your attention to Midori and the Eotvos concerto. I am her publicist and would like to update you on her history with new music! It's true that when she started her career at 11 back in 1982 and for years afterward, she wasn't known for embracing new music. But in her adult life, she's been an enthusiastic exponent of the music of our time. The Eotvos was commissioned for her, and she has commissioned many works herself, from such composers as Hyla, Penderecki, Rautavaara, Bermel, Hersch, Shchedrin, Dean, and Jalbert. She's awaiting the newest commission now, from composer Johannes Maria Staud. Next season there will be a recording of the Hindemith concerto coming out with the NDR Symphony / Eschenbach, + a recital album. Thanks again for shining a light on Midori, and sorry you didn't like the piece much. With best wishes, Kathryn King