Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Getting down to business

October 12, 2007

Salonen and the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2007
Whenever a new Fall Philharmonic season starts here in LA, I feel there is this period of adjustment. It may just be me, but at first it seems everything is settling in like there’s too much energy in the air or that performers and/or audience are re-adapting to their surroundings. The season will start and usually the first few programs may seem uneven in various ways, but then something will just click and you know you're there. Tonight was that night as the LA Philharmonic under Esa-Pekka Salonen opened up their “Sibelius Unbound” series revisiting the Finnish master's symphonies and tone poems over a series of weeks. This sequence will be repeated in London next month at the Barbican. If the rest of the series pans out to be as good as tonight was, it will be a crowning achievement for Salonen on the eve of his departure from the LA Philhamonic.

The program and series began, appropriately enough with Finlandia - a familiar 8 minutes whose placement here acts as prologue inviting the audience to think of what they know—and how much more they may not—about Sibelius. This was followed by Salonen’s own Wing on Wing emphasizing this series’ interest in Sibelius’s influence on modern composers and a chance to make a direct connection with the local audience here who have had numerous experiences over the last few years to hear this piece commissioned in honor of the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall. On my third outing, the group have clearly grown more comfortable with the work making it sound less elemental and more biological. It throbs along like some animal driven and crying with the soprano voices of Stacey Tappan and Anu Kosmi. It was wonderful and the LA audience responded with great enthusiasm.

After the intermission, the group and Salonen set out on a detailed and brisk account of Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2. Here Salonen kept with the composer's wishes eschewing more programmatic impulses and allowing the work to simply be what it is. The emphasis here was to think of Sibelius not simply as a Finnish composer but an early 20th Century master casting a shadow onto what follows. Involved but not in any way bombastic it sets an excellent tone for the coming weeks. It was a great evening at WDCH and a strong start to a series of programs that promise to be quite exciting. Tickets are still available for this program which will repeat on Saturday and Sunday as well as for the other shows in the series over the next two weeks.


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