SAME-DAY REVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic, Charles Dutoit at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Charles Dutoit, conductor

Stravinsky: Symphonies
for Wind Instruments;
Debussy: La Mer

Prokofiev: Suite from Romeo
and Juliet

Friday, February 24, 2012 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next performances: Tomorrow at 8 p.m.

Information: www.laphil.com

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Los Angeles Philharmonic management earns a gold star for
its scheduling prowess this week. After a grueling, month-long traversal of
Gustav Mahler’s 9.5 symphonies twice, including a trip to and from Caracas,
Venezuela, the Phil returned home Sunday and got right back into playing at
Walt Disney Concert Hall.

 

Music Director Gustavo Dudamel is taking a four-week hiatus
from conducting, presumably getting some rest and reacquainted with his wife
and baby son, but for the orchestra members, there are two more weeks of
concerts before taking a one-week vacation.

 

A 10-week-run of guest conductors began this week not with a
young tyro (that happens next week when 34-year-old Spaniard Pablo Heras-Casado
returns to Disney Hall) but with a welcome veteran presence: Charles Dutoit,
who is about as far away from Dudamel and Heras-Casado as one could imagine.

 

Now age 75 (although he doesn’t look it), Dutoit is tall and
slender, with a quizzical, patrician look as he calmly strolled on stage this
morning to lead a program a long ways removed from Mahler. Unlike Dudamel (who
conducts nearly everything from memory), Dutoit used a score for all three
works. He reordered Dudamel’s seating pattern, placing the cellos on his far
right with the basses next to them and the violas in the middle. Following
performances, he took bows with an ironic grin from in front of or beside the
conductor’s podium rather than from deep within the orchestra, as does Dudamel.

 

Dudamel is currently finishing up his four-year tenure as
chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and for 25 years he was artistic
director of the Montreal Symphony (although that sojourn ended in acrimony).
Nonetheless, Dutoit is a welcome annual guest-conducting presence on the podium
in Los Angeles, not least because he gets excellent results from the LAPO, this
week on even shorter rehearsal time than normal.

 

That was evident again this morning, beginning with
Stravinsky’s quirky Symphonies for Wind
Instruments,
which opened the program. In his book, An Autobiography, Stravinsky said. “[Symphonies for Wind Instruments] is not meant ‘to please’ an
audience or rouse its passions.” To these ears, his assessment was correct; the
nine-minute work juxtaposes angular, rhythmic measures with sonorous chords,
but while the orchestra (in this case, the term “wind instruments” included the
brass section) played the piece with dispatch, the work served as no more than
an introduction to the balance of the program.

 

Dutoit, who was born in Lausanne, Switzerland (the French
quadrant of the country, has always had an affinity for French music and it was
on full display with today’s performance of Debussy’s La Mer. If the Stravinsky was a symphony in name only, La Mer is the closest Debussy came to
writing a symphony. Written in 1903-1905 (the same time Mahler was composing
his sixth and seventh symphonies), La Mer
is eons away Mahler, being instead an impressionistic work inspired by the
sea.

 

Dutoit led the work with just the right amount of tension
and sweep and the orchestra responded to his every gesture. As is usual, Dutoit
got the strings to play with a lean, clean sound and the brass maintained the
mellow power it displayed during the Mahler performances. The surging sea was ever-present
in the 25-minute performance.

 

After intermission, Dutoit turned to a suite of eight
selections from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo
and Juliet.
The orchestra seemed to catch fire in this 45-minute
performance, playing with razor-sharp precision when called for and with
elegant sweep the rest of the time. The entire performance was exhilarating. Along the way, David Buck, flute; Michelle
Zukovsky, clarinet; Ben Hong, cello; and James Rotter on saxophone delivered
polished solos.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

Although Thursday night’s concert was dedicated to
Co-Principal Clarinet Lorin Levee, who died Wednesday at the age of 61 after
battling a blood disorder, there was no mention this morning of the man who
held the LAPO principal position from 1981 (Michelle Zukovsky remains as the
orchestra’s other principal clarinet). Levee played his last concert with the
Phil on Jan. 8 but didn’t participate in “The Mahler Project.” A Los Angeles Times article on Levee is
HERE.

Heras-Casado, who last December was named principal
conductor of New York City’s Orchestra of St. Luke’s, returns to the Phil next
weekend leading Richard Strauss’ Ein
Heldenleben
and the west coast premiere of James Matheson’s Violin
Concerto, with LAPO Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour as soloist. Friday
is a “Casual Friday” concert; the Saturday and Sunday performances add
Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Information: www.laphil.com

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(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.