By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Philharmonic; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor
Overture; Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Jean-Yves Thibaudet, soloist)
Saint-Sans: Symphony No. 3 (Organ)
Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 11 a.m., Saturday at 8 p.m.,
and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Preconcert lectures by Alan Chapman at 7 p.m., 9:45 a.m., 7
p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively
With the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Mahler Project” looming
on the horizon (beginning Jan. 13), it’s easy to forget that the Phil actually
returns to the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage this week. That’s a pity because
there are several interesting things to note about this weekend’s performances.
First, the concerts mark a homecoming for Miguel
Harth-Bedoya, who was the orchestra’s assistant and then associate conductor
from 1998-2004. During that stretch, he won the prestigious Seaven/NEA
Conductors Award. Now age 43, the Peruvian-born Harth-Bedoya has been music
director of the Ft. Worth, Tex. since 2000 after previously heading orchestras
in Auckland, New Zealand, Lima, Peru, and Eugene, Ore.
BTW: Harth-Bedoya’s bio (LINK) on his Web site is one of the
most informative and readable of any conductor I’ve researched. Also, when I
first clicked on his site’s home page (LINK), the first photo that appeared was
of the conductor standing outside Disney Hall.
Second, the concerto brings back a Philharmonic favorite
(and local resident): pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, as soloist in Liszt’s Piano
Concerto No. 2. In November Thibaudet was heavily involved in recording the
score for the motion picture Extremely
Loud & Incredibly Close. James C. Taylor has a story HERE about that in
the Los Angeles Times.
Third, the concert concludes with the most famous orchestral
work that makes significant use of the organ: Saint-Sans’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ). The Phil has never known quite
what to do with its massive Disney Hall organ (with 72 stops, 109 ranks, and
6,125 pipes, it’s one of the larger instruments in Southern California). The
organ’s distinctive wooden pipes do look like an overturned bag of McDonald’s
French fries and the instrument has quite a wide array of sounds available, but
it usually sits silent, looming above the stage.
The Phil does sponsor an organ recital series that this
season features six concerts (including Clark Wilson accompanying a silent film
on Halloween and a Christmas-season concert). Occasionally orchestra programs
include a piece that uses the instrument (e.g., Strauss’ Also Sprach Zaruthustra, Elgar’s Enigma Variations), but neither Esa-Pekka Salonen nor Gustavo
Dudamel has seemed much interested in organ music.
The organ dedication concerts in 2004 included Lou
Harrison’s Organ Concerto and the first performances of James MacMillan’s A Scotch Bestiary but I don’t think
either has surfaced since. Aaron Copland’s Concerto for Organ has been played a
couple of times and the Phil did commission an “organ” symphony from Stephen
Hartke for May 2010 but it never materialized.
Thus, an occasional performance of Saint-Sans Organ Symphony is just about it for
organ/orchestra lovers (I think this marks the third time the piece has been
played since 2004). It’s actually quite an inventive piece with the standard
four symphony movements compressed into two (you can tell where the second and
fourth sections begin because that’s when the organ comes in, quietly in the
second section and with a thunderous C major chord to begin the fourth).
Joanne Pearce Martin, the Phil’s principal keyboardist, will
play the organ; her husband, Gavin Martin, and well-known local pianist Vicki
Ray will play the piano four-hand parts. One other note: Saint-Sans later
dedicated the symphony to Liszt, who died in 1886, the year the symphony
Finally, one would think it impossible to find a Dvorak
orchestra piece that the L.A. Phil hasn’t played but the Hussite Overture, which will open this weekend’s concerts, is
receiving its first LAPO performances.
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.