(Revised) OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Gustavo Dudamel, Lang Lang and L.A. Phil open Hollywood Bowl’s classical season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily



Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Lang Lang, piano

Borodin: Polovtsian
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3 No. 3 in C major, Op. 26;
Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures at an

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 Hollywood Bowl

Next concert: Thursday (same program)

Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com

NOTE: The revision is to correct the start time of Sunday’s program to 7:30 p.m.



Gustavo Dudamel and Lang Lang are two of the biggest names
in classical music these days and 9,513 people came last night to Hollywood
Bowl to see them perform together for the first time. That seems like a lot of
folks — and given that the concert repeats tomorrow night perhaps it is — but
it’s barely half the Bowl’s capacity. Some reasons for that are will be
discussed in a future post but those who showed up got a quintessential Lang
Lang show, courtesy of Prokofiev’s third piano concerto.


This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Los
Angeles Philharmonic’s annual summer sojourn in the venerable Cahuenga Pass
amphitheatre. Although the negatives of Bowl concerts remain — e.g., rolling
wine bottles, aerial intruders, patrons walking to and fro incessantly — those
who make the trip continue to feel that visceral thrill that comes from a live


It helps that these days the Phil has a music director who
genuinely embraces the egalitarian nature of playing outdoors before large
crowds. Dudamel first conducted the L.A. Phil at the Bowl in 2005 and led his
inaugural concert as LAPO music director there in 2009. Last season, he was on
the podium for three concerts during a week and will lead four programs over
five nights in a two-week span this season. Not since Zubin Mehta has the Phil
enjoyed a music director who seems to embrace all of the Bowl’s potential (as
well to seemingly ignore its problems).


Dudamel and Lang got no help last night from the electronic
technical crew. Whether it was the damp air or the fact that this was the first
classical concert of the season, the overwrought and tubby amplification was highly
distorted and the camera work was mediocre to the max. One can only hope that
things improve significantly for tomorrow night’s repeat concert.


In many ways, this was a typical performance from the
pianist, who turned age 29 last month: hands roaring at warp speed through
manic, pile-driving octaves in a manner that defies description, interspersed
with occasional dreamy, introspective moments. There were times when the
pianist seemed totally in his own world, often staring out into the black outdoor
void; at other moments he was playful and animated in his facial gestures and
actions. Whether he’s toning down the histrionics or I’ve just gotten used to
him, none of this shtick seemed as off-putting
as it once was. Somehow last night it seemed appropriate for a facility with
the name “Hollywood” in its title.


Dudamel and the Phil offered vigorous accompaniment in the
concerto. Michelle Zukovsky got things off splendidly with her winsome clarinet
solo and also engaged in a witty musical dialogue with the pianist during the
first movement. The blazing final sections of the first and last movement brought
forth predictable eruptions of applause. Incredibly after the final
suicide-speed final section, Lang-squared was able to deliver a wispy, dreamy,
exquisite rendition of Liszt’s Consolation
No. 3
as an encore.


The concert opened with Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances that began with sensitive solos by Principal Oboe
Ariana Ghez and English horn principal Carolyn Hove in the first statement of
the Strangers in Paradise theme and
concluded in a colorful blaze of fury.


After intermission, Dudamel and the Phil unveiled an
interesting rendition of the Mussorgsky/Ravel version of Pictures at an Exhibition. You may not have liked everything in
Dudamel’s concept, but to these ears he made a persuasive case for this very
familiar work. Principal Trumpet Donald Green and the brass section got things
off with a noble Promenade, saxophonist
James Rotter made the most of his solos in Il
vecchio castello,
the Catacombs
were eerily spooky, and The Great Gate of
finished things in majestic fashion.




Probably figuring that it wasn’t worth the effort in a
concert with both Lang Lang and Dudamel, management didn’t make the usual
announcement about no cameras or cell phones.

If, like me, you ride the Metro Red Line to the Bowl, be
advised that there’s a new shuttle location at the Hollywood/Highland stop.
From the station, make a right into the Hollywood/Highland complex and follow
the signs — the new stop is down a corridor from Lids on the second floor. You
can also get off at the Universal City station and walk south under the 101
freeway bridge and west on Ventura Blvd. to reach the Park and Ride lot.

Given the doomsday predictions about freeway traffic
throughout the region because of this weekend’s “Carmageddon” (i.e., the
closure of the 405 Freeway), this might be a good time to consider taking the
Red Line to the Bowl for this weekend’s concerts (rides on the Red Line and Orange are free this coming weekend but not on the other lines). Get info at www.metro.net. However you are planning on getting to the Bowl, allow plenty of extra time and remember that Sunday night’s performance of Puccini’s Turandot begins at 7 p.m.



 (c) Copyright
2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with

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