Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Music in Another Room

July 29, 2009

Marin Alsop, the LA Philharmonic and, PercaDu
Photo: mine 2009

The Hollywood Bowl can be brutal with big orchestral works that are highly reliant on dynamic range to produce their desired effects. Case in point, Tuesday’s performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Marin Alsop. Although the amplification at the outdoor venue has clearly improved over the last two years with a smoother more consistent quality, it’s still just like listening to someone play music in the next room. Or maybe play music on the TV in the next room. Of course, Alsop’s rather slow and plodding approach didn’t help. I tend to think this was just an off night given the less than ideal circumstances of their performance, though. I still thought the Adagietto was lovely, but a lot of the rest felt doubly deadened in these acoustics. It was also clearly a long haul for many in the audience who barreled in increasingly large numbers as the second half moved on.

Unfortunately, the program was not lopsided in that the first half was as weak as the first. Strike that. It was actually weaker considering that the Symphony at least benefited from being Mahler’s. The show opened with the West Coast premiere of Israeli composer Avneh Dorman’s Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!, a double percussion concerto. The soloists were Tomer Yariv and Adi Morag, collectively known as PercaDu, the young ensemble for which the piece was originally composed. (The overly enthusiastic spellings and capitalizations are theirs, not mine.) The three movements were intended to “reflect young Israeli culture” according to Dorman, and I suppose that may be true for all I know. More often than not though, it sounded overly eager-to-please and dangerously bordering on a sort of Middle Eastern kitsch. Take the three words and imagine what John Williams might come up with to represent them in a Spielberg film and you just about have it. There was plenty of activity between marimbas and other various and sundry percussion instruments, but it never really got anywhere. As an encore, PercaDu took two (staged) failed attempts at starting a Bach transcription for Marimba and abandoned it for “Flight of the Bumblebee.” I kid you not. And while this may have been nothing more than a crowd-pleasing gimmick, it encapsulated what had gone before quite appropriately. But, this is Summer and this is the Hollywood Bowl. It's part of the package.


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