PREVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic unveils adventureous 2014-2015 season

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

For the past two decades (at least) the Los Angeles Philharmonic has led the world in creating innovative programs for orchestras, but the 2014-2015 schedule at Walt Disney Concert Hall — entitled, appropriately, “Moving Music Forward” and announced officially yesterday — takes that concept into stratospheres never before envisioned, at least in a single season.

The various initiatives are complex enough that they can’t be fully grasped in one reading. Following is my first take on what’s ahead. In addition to the chronological schedule (HERE), you may want to download much of the press kit (HERE) and take some time to study what it contains.

Several sets of programs feature multiple disciplines, including three that combine video with music. LA Phil Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen will combine with artist Refik Anadol in a program that incorporates a new video into Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet Nov. 6, 7 and 9. Salonen and the Phil will be joined by three soloists and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

The Friday program will inaugurate the Phil’s new “in/Sight” series of music and videos. The other programs include Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis on Jan. 9, to be conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (part of a series of events celebrating MTT’s 70th birthday); a staged production of Unsuk Chin’s opera, Alice in Wonderland on Feb. 27 and 28, 2015; and a program featuring music by Steve Mackey and Steve Reich on May 29 and 31. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel will conduct the last two programs; all four programs will be repeated on days surrounding Friday.

The Romeo and Juliet program will be one of three sets of concerts that Salonen will conduct during the upcoming season. On Oct. 24, 25 and 26, Salonen and organist Olivier Latry will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Disney Hall organ with a program that includes the U.S. premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Maan varjot (Earth Shadows).

The upcoming season will feature the largest emphasis on the Disney Hall organ since the instrument made its debut in 2004. Dudamel will conduct programs on Nov. 20, 21 and 22 that will feature organist Cameron Carpenter in the long-delayed world premiere of Stephen Hartke’s Symphony No. 4 (Organ), originally slated to debut in May 2010, along with Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva and Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ). Carpenter will also play his own arrangement of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 2. There will also be five organ recitals during the upcoming season.

Another new Friday series will be “Inside the Music with Brian Lauritzen,” four programs hosted by the KUSC radio personality. Each concert will include a Lauritzen-produced video sent to audience members ahead of time, along with pre- and post-concert discussions with the hosts and artists and an online forum. Dudamel will conduct two of the four programs, one of which will be the organ program noted above.

In his sixth season as the Phil’s music director, Dudamel will conduct 12 subscription programs during the upcoming season, along with the annual Opening Night gala concert, which will feature violinist Itzhak Perlman and the music of John Williams. In December Dudamel will lead a program celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Music Center that will include a performance of Salonen’s Helix, with the music being relayed live into the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where it will accompany a world-premiere presentation from LA Dance Project.

Dudamel will also lead the orchestra on an Asian tour in March 2015 that will visit Hong Kong, Bejing, Seoul and Tokyo. The programs will include Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (from the New World), Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, and John Adams’ City Noir, which was composed for Dudamel’s inaugural gala program in 2009.

Another new series, “Next on Grand,” is being described as “a recurring festival that converges upon a creative force or cultural element.” Next season’s focus will be on contemporary Americans ranging from “old-timers” such as Phillip Glass, Adams and Reich to relative compositional newcomers such as Bryce Dessner, guitarist for the band, the National, and Chris Cerrone.

As part of this venture, the Phil will collaborate with L.A. Opera in a production of David T. Little’s Dog Days at REDCAT, the black-box theatre inside Disney Hall, and will also produce John Adams’ Available Light at Disney Hall with Frank Gehry designing the sets and Lucinda Childs creating choreography.

Overall the season will have 10 commissioned works, eight world premieres, five U.S. premieres and seven West Coast premieres. Orchestras along with the Phil will be the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas on March 24, 2015 and the Seoul Philharmonic, led by Myun-Whung Chun on April 15, 2015. The “Sounds About Town” series has been bumped back up to three local orchestras: The Colburn Orchestra (led by Sir. Neville Marriner), USC Thornton Symphony, and the American Youth Symphony. There are also numerous other programmatic genres; as noted at the top of this Blog, there’s almost too much to absorb in one reading.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Hollywood Bowl, L.A. Master Chorale announce upcoming seasons

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News

Schedules for 2014-2015 continue to flow in:

• Three different versions of hair are among the highlights of the 93rd Hollywood Bowl season, which was announced Tuesday. The 2014 season begins June 14 and 15 with the 36th annual Playboy Jazz Festivals and spans 15 weeks through September.

Amid a dizzying number of pops, jazz, world music and movie nights, the Los Angeles Philharmonic will have its 10-week-long classical season, which begins July 8 and concludes September 11. Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, he of the curly hair, will lead four programs over five evenings, including another segment of his “Americas & Americans” series, an evening entitled “Noche de Cine” that will include a suite from Dudamel’s score to the movie Libertador on July 31.

The other hair-related programs will be a 50th anniversary re-creation of The Beatles appearance at Hollywood Bowl that will take place August 22, 23 and 24, and a production of the 1968 Broadway musical, Hair, on August 1, 2 and 3. Since the listing for Hair includes the words “contains mature subject matter and brief nudity,” one can assumed this will be a virtually complete production.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Phil’s Conductor Laureate, is among the conductors who will lead the Phil. He has programs scheduled on July 15 and 17.

Read the complete schedule HERE.
The entire Hollywood Bowl press kit is HERE.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 51st season will have Music Director Grant Gershon leading 10 concerts (14 performances) in Walt Disney Concert Hall that feature world premieres by Shawn Kirchner and Nack-Kum Paik. Nearly half of the 20 composers represented in the schedule are alive.

One who isn’t alive (literally, at any rate) is Johann Sebastian Bach whose St. Matthew Passion will be featured twice: the Chorale, along with the Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, will offer Bach’s version on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, while Tan Dun’s Water Passion after St. Matthew will be sung April 11 and 12, 2015. Dun’s piece was commissioned by Helmuth Rilling for the 250th anniversary of Bach’s death in 2000.

Another “Passion” oriented work will open the season on Oct. 19 when the Chorale presents Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light/The Passion of Joan of Arc. Written for chorus, soloists and orchestra, the piece accompanies Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The season announcement also reveals a bit about the upcoming Los Angeles Philharmonic season as the Chorale will sing in performances of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and John Adams’ Harmonium led by Gustavo Dudamel October 9-12; for performances of Berlioz’ Romeo and Juliet under the baton of Esa-Pekka Salonen November 7-9; and in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis to be led by Michael Tilson Thomas January 9-11, 2015.

Details on the Master Chorale season are HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
A shorter version of this article was first published today in the above papers.
Disney Hall
Since it opened 10 year ago, Walt Disney Concert Hall has become both a Los Angeles architectural icon and one of the world’s great concert halls.
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Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
• Free Concert with YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles)

Today at 4 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall, with simulcast in Grand Park
Information: www.laphil.com
• Gala Opening Concert
Tomorrow at 7 p.m. • Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com
• First week of Subscription Concerts
Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Information: www.laphil.com
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Hard as it is to believe, this month begins the 10th anniversary season of Walt Disney Concert Hall. Where has a decade gone? What was once a long-held dream by a handful of Los Angeles Philharmonic administrators, musicians and supporters finally emerged on Oct. 24, 2003 to become both a Los Angeles architectural icon and an acoustically marvelous new home for an orchestra just beginning to realize its potential.

Not everyone loves the hall, of course. Its “billowing sails” exterior isn’t to everyone’s taste and the goal of making a 2,200-seat concert hall as intimate as possible means that some seats and aisles are a mite cramped. (Christopher Hawthorne, in a laudatory Los Angeles Times article (LINK), described the seats as “upholstered in an almost-garish floral pattern that dares you to dislike it.”) Moreover, the hall still doesn’t project amplified spoken words well.

However those, I submit, are quibbles. When you hear the orchestra (or the Los Angeles Master Chorale) in the hall, the transparency, blend and power of sounds are simply amazing. I have been lucky enough to hear concerts in many of the world’s best-known and greatest venues (those two descriptions are not necessarily interchangeable), including Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall, and Vienna’s Musikverein, and I can still remember how stunned I was to hear the sound in Disney Hall for the first time. That feeling has never left me and the sound is excellent from all parts of the house (to which I can attest from personal experience).

The L.A. Times has produced an extensive retrospective on Disney Hall in the run-up to this week’s opening concerts, with Hawthorne, Music Critic Mark Swed and more than a dozen others writing about the history and importance of the hall and other informative tidbits. The articles are definitely worth your time; read them HERE. The Phil also has an extensive section on the hall’s anniversary HERE and Rob Lowman has an article in the papers of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group (which includes the Pasadena Star-News ) HERE

Never one to turn down a marketing opportunity, the Philharmonic is, of course, going all out with its season-long “Celebrat10n”, turning the “io” into “10” on a logo appearing seemingly everywhere throughout Los Angeles. A number of concerts, lectures and other events are directly tied to the celebration and to the future of the hall and Grand Ave. (including a panel discussion with architect Frank Gehry, LA Phil President and CEO Deborah Borda and others on Oct. 2 — INFO). Details on the Disney Hall celebration events (aka “Inside Out”) are HERE.

The party begins this afternoon at 4 p.m. with a free concert pairing the L.A. Phil and YOLA appearing side-by-side for the first time. YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) is the first of the youth orchestras that are part of the Phil’s goal of bringing music to under-served neighborhoods, a project similar to Venezuela’s “El Sistema” system that has produced, among others, LAPO Music Director Gustavo Dudamel).

Tickets for inside Disney Hall have long since been snapped up but you can be part of the festivities in the new Grand Park where folks will watch and view the concert via a simulcast on giant screens. Dudamel is scheduled to lead part of the program (Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian,” Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, and Conga del Fuego Nuevo by Arturo Márquez), while legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and La Santa Cecilia will be among the soloists.

BTW: Avoid parking hassles by taking public transit; the Metro Red Line’s Civic Center Station exits at the new park, which is east of the Music Center complex between Grand Ave. and Temple St. MAP

Dudamel-9-29-13
Dudamel will also conduct tomorrow night’s gala opening concert, an unusually serious program for a gala, but a fascinating one. The evening opens with John Cage’s 4’33”, a famous (or infamous, from your perspective) piece in which a musician or combinations of musicians sit in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds. The idea is for the listener to absorb the sounds surrounding him or her at that moment (at least, I think that’s the idea; I’m not a big John Cage fan).

The Cage piece will be followed by the “Prelude” from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3. The concept that from out of the silence will come this solo cello work seems breathtakingly beautiful to me. Moreover, it hearkens back to that opening night nearly 10 years ago when the first sounds heard by the public in the hall were of Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour playing Bach from the organ loft (will the Phil put Yo-Yo and his cello in the organ loft? Stay tuned — sorry, couldn’t resist).

The Bach prelude will be followed by Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, with Ma as soloist, a four-minute piece by Thomas Adès, the third movement from Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, and the final movement from Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3 (“Organ”). That, as I noted, will be a rich, full evening, especially for a gala with a party awaiting afterwards.

The subscription season opens with four concerts beginning Thursday night. Dudamel will lead a program that begins with Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 and continues with the world premiere of Shing Kam, a 10-minute work for percussion and orchestra that was begun by Peter Lieberson in 2010.

The piece, commissioned by several organizations including the L.A. Phil, came about because a request by Portuguese percussionist Pedro Carneiro. Lieberson died in April 2011 with only the first movement of what had been envisioned as a three-movement work in any sort of shape to complete, a task that fell to noted British composer Oliver Knussen. Carneiro will be the soloist this weekend. Read the Phil’s music note HERE for more details.

The second half of the weekend programs will be Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, with Yefim Bronfman as soloist.

The entire first month of the Phil season celebrates Disney Hall. Dudamel and Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes continue their survey of the five Beethoven piano concerti with performances of the Nos. 2 and 4 on Oct. 10 and 11 and the fourth concerto on Oct. 12 and 13 paired with the U.S. premiere of The Last Days of Socrates by Australian composer Brett Dean. Beethoven’s The Ruins of Athens Overture opens all four concerts.

E
Former LAPO Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen takes the helm for the next two weeks, a particularly appropriate gesture since Salonen was one of the driving forces behind the conception and creation of Disney Hall.

On Oct. 18, 19 and 20, Salonen will lead the Phil in Debussy’s Nocturnes, Bartok’s Music for Strings, Celesta and Percussion and the world premiere of a new piece for cello and orchestra by Magnus Lindberg. The following weekend, Salonen and the Phil will pair Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5 with Salonen’s own Violin Concerto, one of the most important pieces in his growing repertoire. In between (on Oct. 23), Salonen will lead the Phil and L.A. Master Chorale in the world premiere of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels as the opening concert in the Phil’s acclaimed “Green Umbrella” series, another element in the Phil’s history that Salonen was instrumental in building.

Exactly why this piece is dubbed a “world premiere” is not clear. Zappa (founder of the band “The Mothers of Invention”) originally wrote 200 Motels for a 1971 British film of that name and a soundtrack album was subsequently. Presumably (details have yet to come) the piece being played at the “Green Umbrella” is a new reconstruction or reworking of the original score by Zappa, who died in 1993 of prostate cancer just days shy of his 43rd birthday.

BTW: The Phil’s Web site notes that “mature language and content” as well as strobe lights will be used in this performance. According to an article by Sanchez Manning in London’s The Independent, (LINK) after the movie was released, a concert scheduled at London’s Royal Albert Hall was canceled because a representative of the venue found some of the lyrics obscene. In 1975, Zappa lost a lawsuit against the hall for breach of contract. Reportedly after the judge heard Penis Dimension (a portion of the score) he responded, “Have I got to listen to this?” Presumably most listeners in 2013 will be less offended, but the caveat is worth noting.

Also on the Disney hall celebration schedule are a recitals by organist Hector Olivera Oct. 13, Bach recitals by pianist András Schiff Oct. 9 and 16, and a panel discussion with Salonen and Gehry on Oct. 15 on the creative synergy and architecture, moderated by Nicolai Ouroussoff, formerly the architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.

• For a calendar of the entire 2013-2014 LAPO season, click HERE.
• The L.A. Phil Web site can be linked HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2013, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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COMMENTARY AND LINK: On hearing pieces more than once

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

 

On Monday I uploaded a long post on the 2012-2013 Los Angeles
Philharmonic season at Walt Disney Concert Hall (HERE). In reading back over
the schedule, one concert stood out — but not, perhaps, for the reason you
might expect. It’s the program scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 2 when Esa-Pekka
Salonen will lead the LAPO in a concert that includes Witold Lutoslawski’s
Symphony No. 4.

 

It was an “aha” moment not because Salonen will be
conducting, although I always enjoy hearing what Esa-Pekka does with the Phil.
Moreover, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting just 10 subscription weeks next
season (barely more than a third of the schedule) the LAPO needs to have a very
strong core of guest conductors, and Esa-Pekka is one of those (as noted
yesterday, next season’s guest conducting list is quite strong).

 

Nor did I zoom in on these concerts because I’m in love with
Lutoslawski’s music. I acknowledge that he’s an important 20th
century composer but recordings of his music don’t fill my CD shelves. What I
appreciated was that Lutoslawski’s Symphony No. 4 is coming back to the Phil’s
repertoire; the composer conducted the world premiere with the LAPO in 1994.

 

One reason that the L.A. Phil is a world-class orchestras is
its commitment to new music, which began during the tenure of Zubin Mehta
(1962-1978), really picked up steam during Salonen’s reign as music director
from 1992-2009, and has continued under Dudamel’s leadership. Next season the
Phil will present nine commissions, seven world premieres, three U.S. premieres
and four West Coast first performances in its 29-week season, and those numbers
are consistent with the past several seasons. Few, if any, orchestras in the
world can match that level of commitment to contemporary compositions.

 

However, what’s missing are second and third performances of
these works. A little over two years ago, for example, the Phil commissioned
John Adams’ City Noir as part of
Gustavo’s opening gala concert as LAPO music director. They played it again a
couple of months later on a subscription program and took it on the orchestra’s
cross-country tour the following May. I thought it was a terrific piece, but it
hasn’t shown up again on a Phil program (or anywhere else locally, for that
matter).

 

Obviously everyone’s tastes are different but as I think
back over the past decade or so, I remember Nave
and Sentimental Music
and Wing on
Wing
by Salonen as two examples of works that deserve multiple hearings (we
did get to hear his LA Variations in
2009). Salonen’s Violin Concerto just won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for
new compositions and his piano concerto was equally stunning. Have we have
heard them since their premieres? Don’t think so. Readers are invited to add
others to my list by commenting below.

 

AT&T once sponsored a program entitled the “American
Encore” series, which was designed to provide “second” hearings to works that
got premieres and then had languished in obscurity. One of those pieces was Symphony for Classical Orchestra,
written in 1947 by Harold Shapero. Andr Previn and the Phil played it in 1986
and I remember the reaction being “where has this piece been all along?”
Unfortunately, like the sunken cathedral that inspired one of Debussy’s
preludes, Shapero’s work fell back beneath the waves of newer compositions.
Let’s hope that City Noir, Nave and Sentimental Music and others
listed above don’t suffer the same fate.

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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Esa-Pekka Salonen and Los Angeles Philharmonic premiere Shostakovich’s “Orango”

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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

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Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

Shostakovich: Prelude to Orango;
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Op. 43

Friday, December 2, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Tonight at 8; tomorrow at 2 p.m.

Information: www.laphil.com

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The “sine qua non” of Ben & Jerry’s, the wildly popular
ice cream company based in Waterbury, Vermont, is known as the “Vermonster.” A
bucket contains 20 scoops of ice cream, a fudge brownie, four bananas, three
cookies, four toppings, four ladles of hot fudge, whipped cream and
marshmallows. Believe it or not, many people actually try to eat the whole
thing! That’s what I felt I had done after last night’s Los Angeles
Philharmonic concert. At least 110 minutes of Shostakovich didn’t come with the
“Vermonster’s” 14,000 calories and 500 grams of fat.

 

The impetus for this weekend’s gorge is the world premiere
of the Prologue to Orango, which
Shostakovich wrote in a few days midway between composing his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtensk District in
1932. To get a detailed account of the story, click HERE. The short version is
that the prologue was to have preceded three acts of this political-satire
about a half-human, half-ape, but the only thing Shostakovich finished was a
piano-vocal score of the prologue, and that lay undiscovered in the Glinka
Museum in Moscow until it was discovered by Dr. Olga Digonskaya in 2004.

 

Irina Shostakovich, the composer’s widow (who was in the
audience last night), commissioned British composer-writer Gerard McBurney to
orchestrate the Prologue’s sketches. The L.A. Phil, Esa-Pekka Salonen — its
former music director and now conductor laureate — and director Peter Sellars
eagerly signed on to present the first performances this weekend.

 

McBurney actually had more to work with than just the
piano-vocal score. Pressed for time, Shostakovich used the overture and the
ending to his ballet The Bolt to open
and close the Prologue and also included snippets from some of his other
compositions. “That,” said McBurney in the preconcert lecture, “provided a
template for the rest.” McBurney (who curates an ongoing series entitled
“Beyond the Score” for the Chicago Symphony) explained that he immersed himself
in every note that Shostakovich wrote during the 1930s time frame, especially
Shostakovich’s 12 music-theater scores. “What I hope,” he said, “is that this
is an approximation of what Shostakovich would have written.”

 

“Approximation” is a reasonable description. What McBurney
delivered is a mostly loud, mostly furious account of what Shostakovich might
have envisioned for his political satire (including what McBurney termed “an
outrageous parody of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4”). What it lacked was the
dark, sardonic wit that showed up later in the evening during the fourth
symphony. Nevertheless, while it was only an approximation of Shostakovich, it
was madcap — and marvelous — McBurney.

 

Last night’s production (for which Ben Zamora supplied
atmospheric lighting) used 10 soloists (four of whom come from the 24 singers
of the Los Angeles Master Chorale). Sellars planted the soloists throughout
Disney Hall (Jordan Bisch, whose booming basso was the first voice heard, began
in the Orchestra East seats) and those involved both sang and acted their roles
with power and exuberance (only one was overpowered by the gigantic orchestra.
Ryan McKinny served as The Entertainer (envision Joel Grey in Cabaret) and did a fine job of playing
to all four sides of the hall. Eugene Brancovenau was Orango, Michael Fabiano
was the zoologist, and Yulia von Doren was Susanna.

 

Sellars, being Sellars, wasn’t
content to let the music and performers stand on their own; the same thing
happened with the premiere of El Nino, John
Adams’ nativity opera. For Orango, Sellars
leapt at the concept of political satire like a wolf devouring a lamb chop,
projecting a dizzyingly rapid series of still images that juxtaposed “Occupy”
protesters, B-1 bombers, U.S. military and Pentagon personnel, tract houses
atomic bomb blasts, etc. — over and over and over again. If the idea was to get
you eventually to mostly ignore the images and concentrate on the music, I
suppose it was successful. Otherwise, I felt like I had undergone sensory
overload at the end of the 45 minutes.

 

Ironically, the most affecting
imagery came in the quietest moments: the black and white video images of a
ballerina performing while the orchestra played a “Dance of Peace.” The
Prologue’s ending seemed to arrive so suddenly as to leave the audience
befuddled, but the applause for all concerned was almost as deafening as the
music.

 

Salonen conducted the piece with
slashing flair and the orchestra — which revels in Shostakovich’s music —
played the Prologue superbly, treating it as if the piece was an old friend,
rather than something they were performing for the first time.

 

This is one of those works that needs to be seen and heard
several times to fully appreciate. In his program note, McBurney concluded by
calling the Prologue “a ghost from a lost era, the work of a young composer of
the utmost energy and brilliance, not yet cast down by history, ill-health, and
politics. …” It’s also a premiere that might not have happened without the
unique combination of McBurney, Salonen, Sellars and the Los Angeles
Philharmonic and for that, we should all be grateful.

 

According to Sellars, it was Salonen who elected to pair Orango with Shostakovich’s Symphony No.
4, and in many respects that decision made eminent sense. (To cite one example,
both pieces are in the key of C — major for Orango,
minor for the symphony.) However, the fourth is one of the thorniest of
Shostakovich’s 15 symphonies, not least because of its construction: two
movements of nearly half an hour each surrounding a 10-minute middle section.
The composer also employed the largest orchestra for any of his symphonies: 20
woodwinds, 17 brass, two harps, celesta, double timpani, along with a plethora
of percussion instruments and full strings.

 

Shostakovich was writing the symphony in 1935 when he fell
afoul of the Soviet authorities over Lady
Macbeth of the Mtensk District
and withdrew the symphony on the eve of its
first performance in Leningrad. It would take 25 years for its first
performance (on Dec. 30, 1961 by the Moscow
Philharmonic Orchestra
led by Kyrill Kondrashin).
Although one of the work’s ardent early champions was Otto Klemperer, then LAPO
music director, the symphony didn’t make it to Los Angeles until 1989 when
Andr Previn conducted it.

 

Salonen conducted the piece last night with an insightful
sense of its overall architecture, bringing out all of the brooding, sardonic
nature was lacking in Orango. As it
had during Orango, the orchestra
played splendidly, tossing off the treacherous rhythmic sections of the first
and last movements as if they were child’s play. Among the soloists, Principal
Bassoonist Whitney Crocket stood out. At the conclusion, Salonen looked
ecstatic and exhausted. Ditto for this listener.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

The preconcert lecture (with Digonskaya, McBurney, Sellars
and Laurel E. Fay, author of Shostakovich:
A Life
and the Symphony No. 4 program note) was informative but — like Orango — delivered what was almost a
surfeit of information. Sellars’ passion for the music in both pieces was
riveting.

A couple of items not in the program notes came out in the
lecture. Dr. Digonskaya said that when she stumbled across the manuscript
(which is 13 large sheets of paper crammed full of small notations), there were
no identifying marks as to its composer. However, she knew Shostakovich’s
handwriting and, by analyzing the paper and ink, knew that it was something
from the 1930s. Thus began what she and McBurney termed a detective story
worthy of Sherlock Holmes or an archaeological search.

The Phil printed the text translations in the program in
addition to the projected supertitles. Ask not why.

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

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