OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Richard Strauss performed heroically by Harth-Bedoya and the L.A. Phil at the Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

With management and the musicians of his Ft. Worth Symphony locked an increasingly acrimonious labor dispute, Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s return last night to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl must have been especially sweet.

The 48-year-old Peruvian-born conductor — who has led the Ft. Worth ensemble since 2000 and is also Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra in Oslo — was the L.A. Phil’s assistant conductor and then associate conductor from 1998-2004. He returns periodically to lead our local band both at the Bowl and at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

He seemed particularly serene during moments of Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Ein Heldenleben, which comprised the second half of the evening, and no wonder. Nearly all of the principal players were on hand for the performance and the ensemble — swelled by extra brass, horns and an additional harp — was the largest this summer. Even the cicadas seemed larger in number and volume. In addition to the high quality performance of the ensemble, the solo work by Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour and Principal Horn Andrew Bain was breathtaking.

Of course, you couldn’t tell that by the obnoxiously restless audience. I’m always amazed when the Phil elects to program a long symphonic work at the Bowl how many people decide to leave part way through the piece, not to mention those who flee before the work even starts. You’d think their coaches were turning into pumpkins at 9:45 instead of midnight. Didn’t they know ahead of time that the work was 50 minutes long?

The capper for me was the woman with noisy clogs who clip-clopped down the concrete steps, intently gazing at her cell phone (as least she wasn’t talking on it and didn’t fall down the steps). Moments later she returned to her seat, seemingly oblivious to the orchestra’s playing. Oh, and I forgot to mention the foursome in the very front boxes who decided midway through the performance that it was okay to make their exit. Sheesh!

(Full disclosure: I inadvertently contributed to the obnoxiscity when, early on, I turned on my iPad to write a note and accidentally activated Siri — how embarrassing; mea culpa!)

There’s no denying that Ein Heldenleben is long. Most scholars consider the work to be autobiographical (the title translates as A Hero’s Life) and Strauss was a composer with plenty of ego, so one guess as to the Hero was. It’s also my favorite Strauss tone poem, so I confess to bias when I listen to it.

Some conductors like to wallow in the music’s excesses but Harth-Bedoya, thankfully, eschewed such a decision. Instead, he was content to let the music (and the magnificent orchestra) speak without excessive tempo extremes to over-emphasize Strauss’ intentions.

As I noted earlier, the performance by Chalifour of the themes representing Strauss’ wife was exemplary. This was his 49th Bowl solo appearance in his 20 years with the Phil and it was one of his best. In the first half of the evening, Chalifour brought his irresistibly sweet tone and superb musicality to seven short works by violinist Fritz Kreisler. The tone was especially noteworthy in Caprice vennois and when Chalifour was dancing on the E string during Tambourin chinois.

Preceding the music by the Vienna-born Kreisler were two works by that most Viennese of composers, Johann Strauss II: the Emperor Waltz and Thunder and Lightning Polka, both dispatched with panache by conductor and orchestra.

• The classical season wraps up beginning tomorrow, when Seattle Symphony Music Director Ludovic Morlot returns to the Bowl to lead a dance-themed program, with three L.A. dance companies accompanying the music. Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring will conclude the evening. INFO
• Morlot also conducts the Sept. 13 program featuring French music. The final classical concert for the season, on Sept. 15, includes Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” not with a violin soloist as is customary but with Israeli-Moroccan mandolinist Avi Avital offering a different perspective on this familiar work. INFO

(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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