Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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The Big Finn(ish)

June 01, 2008

Big hug with Salonen, Bronfman and the LA Philharmonic
Photo : mine 2008

The final program of the L.A. Philharmonic’s 07/08 season this weekend was a little bit of a disappointment, but only in the way the last ones always are. The desire is to have a big spectacular bang to go out on, but the reality is that the chances that the last show will surpass everything else over the last eight months is rather unlikely. Not impossible, just not statistically probable. A lot of expectations were riding on this Salonen-led weekend, which featured the local premiere of his own piano concerto, written for and again performed by Yefim Bronfman as it has been previously in New York, London, and Chicago.

It is an interesting composition that any composer in hopes of a lasting reputation could be proud of. Still I’m not completely sold on it like, say, Salonen's Wing on Wing. The concerto contains nearly miraculous flights of notes for Bronfman that he dispatches with a little sweat and plenty of dexterity. It is especially remarkable considering that Salonen never lets the orchestra stop playing during the piece, and Bronfman must overcome lots and lots of competition to be heard. Often he plays duets with individual members of the Philharmonic including one spectacular passage accompanied by the group's new principal violist, Carrie Dennis, recently arrived from a position with the Berlin Philharmonic. She killed – you’d be wise to keep an eye on her. Despite all of this, however, I felt rather detached from the whole thing. The concerto seemed like a rush of music filled with references to just about everyone you could think of, but I never got a sense of it as a distinct entity of its own. Of course, this was only a first listen. Maybe I’ll change my mind later after the DG recording made from this weekend’s performances is released.

The rest of the program consisted of a new arrangement of Debussy’s Preludes by Colin Matthews and a world premiere arrangement of Stravinsky’s Les noces by Steven Stucky. Salonen was on the mark here and in his element with another harbinger of music to come next year. The rhythmic elements were front and center and played well in this tale of an arranged marriage. Now, if it were only possible to have heard any of the four clearly talented soloists the orchestra had recruited to sing the lead roles, it would have been perfect. I know they were singing because I could see them moving their mouths; I just couldn’t hear them over all of Stravinsky’s beautiful music. It’s sad but true, even in 2008, size matters.

So that’s it. Another season draws to a close and those of us who love the L.A. Philharmonic and music in general try hard not to think about the reality of the Hollywood Bowl until we are back again in the most beautiful public room in America next October. Of course, that season will bring a world of "final performances" as well. Which reminds me, I guess I shouldn’t complain about anything in this program after all. I doubt I’m going to get too many opportunities in future years to hear a music director of the L.A. Philharmonic conduct a new composition of his own. Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got 'til it's gone.

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I had a similar reaction, although I couldn't hear the violist either. I wish I had now that I've read your review.
I loved the concerto. Sitting in the terrace section allowed me to hear and see violist much better than my regular rear orchestra seat for another series.
The spoken words from Borda at the beginning of the Sunday performance were extremely muddy, just like most everything spoken in that hall. Hence also the problem with the audibility of the four soloists.
Really good end to one really fabulous season.
Is it October yet?!
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