Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Jack Be Nimble

March 05, 2010

James Conlon, Lise de la Salle and the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2010

If the start of Daylight Savings Time this weekend isn't enough for you, there's an even more potent harbinger of Spring in Los Angeles this weekend as the Los Angeles Philharmonic welcomes James Conlon back to town. One of the many fringe benefits of Conlon's work as Music Director of the Los Angeles Opera is that we’ve been privileged with a series of excellent concerts he’s led across the street at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Thursday’s all-Prokofiev outing was another in this very well played and satisfying series. Conlon likes to speak to audiences (a sadly rare event for LA Phil audiences these days) and noted that taking a break from all the Teutonic goings-on in his preparation for LA Opera’s upcoming Ring cycle performances with a decidedly Russian evening may have been striking some sort of musical balance. Whether or not that's true, it was an excellent show.

The first half of the program, which he termed the “Opus 1” section, included Prokfiev’s First Symphony, the “classical”, and his First Piano Concerto played by soloist Lise de la Salle. The symphony, like the concerto, seemed detailed and fleeting and I felt I was rushing to savor every moment of these comparably brief works. De la Salle’s playing was limber in this very demanding storm of notes, and while she may have wanted for a little more power sometimes, it was an admirable and memorable appearance. After the break were the omnipresent selections from Romeo and Juliet which I will admit I wasn’t super excited about. But much to my surprise, Conlon had something new to offer local ears in a very theatrical take on selections he took from the whole ballet intentionally to emphasize the narrative flow. Conlon's operatic expertise served him well taking music that risks sounding pedestrian and tuning it into something more cohesive and exciting. The orchestra had a real richness of sound and marshaled through two players breaking strings and the subsequent on-the-fly repairs. But while it may have been a bad night for individual strings, it was a great night for the audience. And while Prokofiev may not be Wagner, hearing Conlon lead the orchestra under these circumstances whets one’s appetite for the far more ambitious undertaking under his musical guidance over the next few months.


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