Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Jet Lagged

March 30, 2008

Dudamel, Simon Trpceski, and the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2008

So I’m back in LA and, while I still have some New York stuff to write about (which I’ll get to later), I rushed back today primarily to hear our beloved LA Philharmonic in the last of this weekend’s shows under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel. These were his first appearances with the full orchestra since the announcement that he will take over the music director’s position here in 2009 after the departure of Esa-Pekka Salonen. It was a big show at least in terms of expectations and if nothing else is clear, the city has already warmly embraced our young new intended music director, if Sunday’s audience was any indication. Even the musicians themselves seem to love him already. So, how come I can't seem to bring myself to jump into the love-fest?

Let me continue to go on record as saying that, while there is plenty to be excited about with Dudamel, I, for one, am still far from won over. This may be more psychological than anything in that he seems to have been given the easiest ride imaginable in the press, which always raises my suspicions. There seems to be an awareness of his shortcomings but they are always presented as somehow charming and youthful. The fawning seems nearly without end.

This weekend’s shows included Esa-Pekka Salonen’s own Insomnia, as well as Prokofiev's first piano concerto played by Simon Trpceski, and Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique. All of the pieces were given enthusiastic and admirable performances, cranked up to full crowd-pleasing mode. There were certainly more of a dynamic range here than with anything played by the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra under Dudamel last November. But as enjoyable as this all may have been, it still seems to me that Dudamel has one approach to virtually everything and he’s sticking with it. Everything is taken at its full-bore, juiced-up enthusiastic best. It’s certainly a fun, dramatic, and exciting way to take in the world of music, but one that lacks an amount of subtlety and texture. Salonen’s piece suffered the most under this weight, and while Dudamel’s rendition had much to recommend it in terms of energy and tension, it paled in comparison to Salonen’s own approach to the work which we here in LA have had the benefit of hearing first hand on a number of occasions.

Still, I suppose overly energetic is preferable to dull and lifeless any day. I guess I just wish there seemed to be a little more middle ground here. Dudamel will return for more shows next weekend featuring Debussy and Ravel but it appears that these programs are sold out already as were this weekend's.

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I went Sunday (and as the sports cliche goes "There were a lot of people there disguised as empty seats") and I agree completely with your reticence about jumping on the GD bandwagon.

In Insomnia, the brass and percussion were given way to much leeway and the interesting string writing sometimes got buried; also, there wasn't a lot of rhythmic detail. The Prokofiev fared better, mostly because Mr. Dudamel was just following Mr. Trpceski who displayed unbelieveable chops. The Berlioz left me exhausted; it was all so driven, even the slow movement, there's not, as you indicated, a lot of subtlety going on.

So, you have a critics extra for Saturday night? :-D
I, too, attended the Sunday performance, and got a somewhat different feeling. I felt the Insomnia had much more depth than the Salonen performances. Trpceski was sensational in a bit of an over-the-top kind of way, yet Prokofiev seemed to want it that way.
As to Fantastique, I felt the slow movement was just too slow, yet he obviously felt like making up lost time by the end of the work! Still feel the best performance of this work was the orchestra's first performance which had a video accompaniment, as in drug overdosing, etc. Was truly magical, and this performance left me wanting more, not much more, but more.
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