SAME-DAY REVIEW: Janine Jansen, Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor; Janine Jansen, violin

Mendelssohn: Hebrides
Violin Concerto; Symphony
No. 3 (Scottish)

Friday, October 7, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next performances: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.

NOTE: Sunday’s concert will be telecast live to movie
theaters as part of the orchestra’s “LA Phil LIVE” series (LINK)

Concert information:



It’s been quite a week for Gustavo Dudamel … and it’s not
over, yet. Earlier in the week, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced a new chapter
in the commitment to its “El Sistema”-like project entitled “Taking a Stand”
(LINK), and although Dudamel’s role in the new venture (if any) wasn’t
spelled out, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t be pulling an oar in this
long-term project that is being produced in conjunction with Bard College and
the Longy School of Music. On Sunday, Dudamel will be both hosting and
conducting the first of three “LA Phil LIVE” telecasts to movie theaters

In the midst of all of that (and presuming he’s getting some
sleep with a six-month-old probably teething baby in the house), Dudamel is
leading the Phil in four concerts this week, of which today was the second and
the telecast will be the fourth. Ah, the vigor of youth!


This week’s program is all-Mendelssohn — not the flash and
grandeur of the upcoming “Mahler Project” in early 2012, not the glitz of the
U.S. premiere of Esteban Benzecry’s Rituales
that he conducted last week. Instead, it was just the sort of mainstream
music that constitutes a significant amount of any season’s programs and one
that can act as a balm for those not enamored with composers such as Mahler,
Adams or Benzecry.


If you want profundity, buy Beethoven. If
heart-on-the-sleeve pathos is your desire, try Tchaikovsky. If you crave
grandiosity, make it Mahler. But for pure unadulterated beauty, my choice would
be Mendelssohn … particularly if the centerpiece of the program is the Violin
Concerto played as wondrously as was the case by Janine Jansen this morning. I
can’t count how many times I’ve heard this work played in concert but none more
beautifully than the 33-year-old Dutch violinist and the Phil today.


Jansen’s tone, playing on a 1727 Stradivarius known as “Barrere,”
was amazingly pure even on the highest notes (of which there are plenty in this
concerto), but it was much more than that. I’ve heard violinists (some quite
well known) “phone in” performances of this ultra-familiar work but Jansen
would have none of that. Her musical taste was impeccable and she challenged
Disney Hall’s legendary acoustics (and the audience’s ability to remain quiet)
with measures of the softest playing possible; there was a moment in the third
movement when Jansen’s notes were seemingly suspended in an absolutely still
hall — not just no coughing; it seemed like everyone was holding their
collective breath. I wonder if Sunday’s telecast will be able to capture any of
that; it will be a true test of that medium.


Dudamel and the orchestra were in tune with Jansen
throughout; the balance (as heard from a seat near the back of the hall) was near
perfect. Dudamel (who conducted the entire program without a score) was as
quiet on the podium as I can remember seeing him. The tempos in the first
movement were as gentle as Jansen’s playing, while the final two movements
edged ever-so-slightly faster, providing just the right amount of propulsion.


After sustained applause, Jansen came onstage to play Bach’s
Sarabande, from Partita No. 2 in D
Minor. The house lights were lowered leaving an orange glow on the wooden organ
pipes, perfectly complementing the orange and black gown Jansen was wearing.
The total effect — visual and musical — was stunning.


If you had any thoughts of ignoring an all-Mendelssohn
program, banish them and attend one of the last two concerts, if for no other
reason than to hear Jansen and the Phil, in the hall if possible or, if not, in
a theater near you.


Not that the rest of the program was chopped liver, by any
stretch of the imagination. Luxuriant tempos were the order of the day in both
pieces, which were inspired by Mendelssohn’s trip to Scotland in 1829. The Hebrides Overture (aka Fingal’s Cave) featured sublime
performances from the woodwind and brass sections. The storm scenes, here and
in the Symphony No. 3 (Scottish) that
followed intermission, were properly atmospheric.


Luxuriant tempos were also front-and-center for the much of
the Scottish Symphony. Dudamel took
all four movements without pause, Clarinetist Lorin Levee played the “Scottish
snap” jig with verve in the scherzo (which Dudamel took at a jaunty clip), the
strings made the most of their moments to shine in the Adagio, and the finale finished in a majestic blaze of glory.




After a week of music by Berlioz, Adams and Benzecry that
featured several dozen percussion instruments, today’s stage seemed almost bare,
with only a lonely timpanist, Joseph Periera, holding forth as the percussion
section. Unlike last week when the violins were seated together stage left,
today they were back to the “normal” configuration, divided left and right,
with the violas (who had been on the far right last week) inside of the second

The Phil has a long history with these three pieces. The
concerto was first performed Jan. 2, 1920, the overture on Feb. 27 of that same
year, and the Scottish Symphony on
Dec. 29, 1922.

Alan Chapman was the erudite host for the “Upbeat Live”
preconcert lecture (owing to the heavy attendance, the lecture on Friday
morning is in the main auditorium, rather than BP Hall). He noted that this year
marked the 28th year of these preconcert talks, lauded the Phil for
being the first orchestra to have these sorts of lectures or conversations
before every concert, and finished with a funny Mendelssohn joke that I won’t
share so as not to spoil it for those attending tomorrow or Sunday. I’ll try to
remember to double back Sunday evening and post the joke at that time.

Earlier this week Dudamel was named Artist of the Year through a public vote conducted by Britain’s Gramophone Magazine (LINK). Last August
the magazine published a cover story on Dudamel.



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

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