Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The Lunatic Fringe

December 11, 2009

Yefim Bronfman, Zubin Mehta, and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

Watching Zubin Mehta slowly saunter to the podium on Friday night with the L.A. Philharmonic, it might be hard to believe that not so many years ago he was the hot, young, vibrante! music director of our beloved orchestra. And though all of us have changed since then, his appearances here are much loved by local audiences. He was again warmly received on Thursday by a near capacity crowd. And while it wasn’t a top-drawer show, it wasn’t a bad one either. It was a standard program by L.A. and Mehta’s standards. Things kicked off with Webern’s Passacaglia, his Opus 1 that makes no bones about his ties to Schoenberg at the time. It’s pretty for 10 minutes of orchestral writing that seems like it is about to splinter into nothingness, but Mehta didn’t work the material into something more than it needed to be. He may not be electrico!, but Mehta knows what he is doing.

Close on these 20th-century heels was Bartok’s second piano concerto played by Yefim Bronfman. This was a meaty performance that was light on the finesse and heavy on the gusto. I didn’t always feel that soloist and orchestra were together, but Bronfman’s keyboard work was admirable. The evening wrapped with a surprisingly sleepy version of Beethoven’s 3rd symphony. Mehta went at things with a light touch that almost fizzled out in the first movement. Things did pick up, though, with a little more clarity by the scherzo, but this was not a performance that was going to set anyone’s heart ablaze that easily.

Then again, given the high lunatic element in last night’s audience, that might have been a good thing. After listening to the gentleman seated next to me celebrate his few hours of freedom from what I assume is his more natural iron lung habitat, I decided to move into other empty seats across the hall. While that did eliminate the heavy breathing, it left me behind a man with an entirely different set of problems. He perched himself atop his seat back wedging his feet against the low wall in front of his seat. The perched man listened somewhat intently allowing his frenzied autistic rocking to be broken only occasionally for a sip from his thermos or to feed his girlfriend seated next to him what I'm fairly certain were circus peanuts. Actually the thought that she was his girlfriend is only wishful thinking on my part. Hopefully she hadn’t married that lunatic, making escape from his clutches perhaps easier when her sanity returns. I wondered wether he was part of the old audience or the new one the L.A. Philharmonic is trying to attract. The performances with Mehta and Bronfman continue through Sunday.



Just returned from the sunday matinee performance, and I must have gotten luckier than you did on either Friday or Thursday night, depending on line 2 or 7 in your review.
The Webern could easily have been omitted and I would not have cared, as the balance of the program more than made up for those lost ten minutes.
The Bartok was quite well synchronized and electric. Being the fourth performance helped avoid whatever issues you had with it. The audience was really into the performance, yet an encore was almost an afterthought, even though it did happen.
The Eroica's first movement was much more successful than you indicate yours was while the second was taken very slowly, but the remaining two movements really got up and went.
The new flautist, Matteau Dufour was sensational. Chicago's loss is LA's gain, and pairing him with Ariana Ghez was a real treat for this former oboist.
Yet another afternoon of magic downtown,
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