Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business

February 24, 2008

Time for a big hug - Conlon and Repin with the LA Phil
Photo: mine 2008

...is James Conlon. Or at least he’s the title holder in the LA classical music scene this weekend. Like some American Gergiev, JC headed up 3 performances by the LA Philharmonic as well as two performances for LA Opera (Otello and Der Zwerg) all in the course of three days. The man is a machine and perhaps the most remarkable part is how good it all was. The Philharmonic shows included Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony and the 1st Shostakovich violin concerto. Vadim Repin was the soloist and he wowed a very appreciative crowd on Sunday with blazing virtuosity and real passion for Shostakovich’s maniacal masterpiece. Like a Pinter play, Shostakovich should always be equal parts fun and menace and Repin and Conlon proved to be kindred spirits. The Tchaikovsky was lively and Conlon left nary a pause between any of the movements. This may have not been the most detail oriented or piercing interpretation but it had real momentum and purpose throughout. (I’ll talk more about the Otello performance later).

The really unexpected part is this – in this town that Salonen built where anxiety is widespread over his pending departure despite all the big promises of a Dudamel-filled future, Conlon has stepped in and quietly become the next major driving force in the musical life of this community. In less than two years he has developed a beloved following from both local audiences and (I’m told) the musicians playing under his leadership. He has laid out an agenda that he has so far delivered on with fairly good results across the board programming both more Wagner and overlooked German repertory for LAO. He is truly excited about what he is doing and is eager to share it with audiences here personally. For example, he’s been doing most of the pre-opera talks of the projects he’s involved with himself and he’s as likely as not to make comments from the stage before his Philharmonic appearances. He is fully involved in community outreach and has already led two free semi-staged performances of large scale works from Britten and Handel at Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral downtown. He attacks everything with gusto and I for one am thrilled about what he’s done so far. We are lucky to have Conlon here right now. So while his LA Phil appearances are done for this year, there are still several performances of both Otello and Der Zwerg to be seen through the middle of March after which JC will be off from LA until the Fall. Don’t miss out.

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Well said! I went to the Recovered Voices excerpt concert last year and he simply has the style down. I can't wait to hear him conduct Braunfels Die Vogel next year and Schreker and Korngold in subsequent seasons.

One thing I've noticed is that LAO doesn't seem to be doing rubbish like Spanish language versions of The Merry Widow any more and if Mr. Conlon has anything to do with that, he has my undying admiration.
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