SAME-DAY REVIEW: Trifonov dazzles in Rach 3 with Dudamel and L.A. Phil

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

2014-03-31_trifLos Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Dec. 2; Walt Disney Concert Hall
Prokofiev: Scythian Suite, Op. 20; Scriabin: Poem of Ecstasy
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30; Daniil Trifonov, pianist
Next concerts: Today at 8 p.m. Tomorrow at 2 p.m.
Information: www.laphil.com
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When the Los Angeles Philharmonic first played Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto on Jan. 2, 1930 the soloist was Vladimir Horowitz, making his L.A. debut at the age of 26.

Writing about concert, Los Angeles Times critic, Isabel Morse Jones, called Horowitz “overrated.” She wrote: “He has been praised by the most discriminating and lauded as ‘the greatest,’ the most astounding, and all the rest of the superlatives press representatives overwork. After a first hearing of a concerto that makes tremendous technical demands upon the player but contains little that is emotional or poetic, my impression of Mr. Horowitz is that he has been overrated. He is, without question, one of the astounding piano talents in point of facility and, in what is better, musicianship. He lacks feeling and his truly marvelous ability and cleverness for effort does not compensate. He is yet too young in soul to be called a great pianist. The future will answer what he will become.”

The future did, indeed, pass judgment on Horowitz (and on Rachmaninoff’s third). To Walt Disney Concert Hall this weekend comes another young (age 25) Russian pianist, Daniil Trifonov, who has been proclaimed by many to be the next Horowitz since he captured both the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow and the Artur Rubinstein Competition in Israel in 2011 at the age of 20.

In his Hollywood Bowl debut in 2013, Trifonov soloed in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and his Disney Hall recital debut last February concluded with that composer’s first piano sonata. In March he played Prokofiev’s third piano concerto with L’Orchestre Symphonie de Montréal, led Kent Nagano, in Santa Barbara.

So there was tremendous anticipation for his Rach 3 performance this morning, which came less than 12 hours after playing the same piece the night before. This was also Trifonov’s first appearance with Dudamel (the Bowl concert was led by Miguel Harth-Bedoya). The house this morning was almost completely filled.

Based on my first experience with Trifonov, I’m certainly not going to call him “overrated.” Is he the “next Horowitz”? Only time will tell. For now I will happy to call him the first Trifonov — that’s more than enough!

He was fascinating to watch as well as to hear. He bounded on stage and sat quietly before melting his opening lines out of the orchestral introduction. At the meditative beginning of the second movement, he sat head bowed as if he was in prayer. But each time he dug into the meat of Rachmaninoff’s concerto, he gradually hunched over as he roared through the octaves and other pyrotechnic moments. In her preconcert lecture, Lucinda Carver said that Trifonov played thye “small notes” for the cadenzas, not the larger notes that most pianists use.

All of that was certainly thrilling to watch and hear. However, what I most remember were the quiet, poetic lines (yes, Ms. Jones, there is plenty that is emotional and poetic this gigantic work) that Trifonov played with exquisite delicacy.

Dudamel and the Phil gave Trifonov warm, supple support. Dudamel conducted using a score and he was extremely attentive to his soloist. Kudos, especially, to Principal Horn Roger Kaza and Principal Flute Denis Bouriakov for their contributions. Together they brought out all of Rachmaninoff’s long, soaring lines.

The finale brought the expected standing ovation but this one had even more excitement than most. Seemingly unfazed by the workout, Trifonov responded with a playful account of Rachmaninoff’s transcription of the Gavotte from Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1006.

One of the problems with Rach 3 is what do you pair with this mammoth concerto? Indeed, one of the surprises of the day was that the concerto opened the program — how do you follow that? Rather than with a symphony, Dudamel elected to pair use strange works: Prokofiev’s Scythian Suite, Op. 20 and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, Op. 54. One reason might have been that the two works call for similar orchestration: both call for two harps and each piece has lots of percussion; one difference is that the Scriabin ends with full pipe organ.

The Scythian Suite was Prokofiev’s attempt to channel Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. Like Rite, the Scythian Suite was originally conceived as a ballet by Diaghliev, but it never came to pass. Instead, Prokofiev fashioned the music into a four-movement, 22-minute orchestral suite.

Dudamel conducted without a score. The Phil played the raucous two opening movements with razor-sharp precision, the dreamy third movement unfolded gently and the final movement was majestic in Dudamel’s conception. Herbert Glass’ program note contained a quote from a cellist in the first performance: “I have a sick wife and three children; must I be forced to settle for this hell?” Half of the row in which I was sitting apparently agreed. They fled as the last notes finished.

I confess to never having heard Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy. In his program note, Herbert Glass said that the premiere in New York City received “scathing reviews.” I’m not willing to go that far but I’m not looking forward to hearing it again.

The work is sort of a precursor of minimalism with a series of never-ending falling and rising motifs, often led with panache by Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten, Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour and Principal Clarinet Boris Allakhverdyan. Except for a few measures of calm, the work builds inexorably to a massive fortissimo. Dudamel and the Phil gave it all the gusto possible.

Fortunately, nothing could wipe out the excitement of Trifonov in Rach 3. We’ve now heard him in lots of Russian music — I can’t wait to hear him in some other genres. His bio says that during the past couple of seasons he has played Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel and Schumann with other orchestras. Those will give us a better sense of what he can become in the next decades.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: L.A. Phil screens “On the Waterfront” with live orchestra accompaniment

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

on-the-waterfront-4-blogMarlon Brando (left) won a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront.” Karl Malden should have won the Best Supporting Actor for the role of Father Barry but didn’t (he was one of three men nominated — the others were Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. They undoubtedly split the vote and the statuette went to Edmond O’Brien won for “The Barefoot Contessa”).
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The Los Angeles Philharmonic screened the 1954 film classic On the Waterfront last night in Walt Disney Concert Hall with composer David Newman conducting the orchestra as it played Leonard Bernstein’s score live.

If your goal was to hear Bernstein’s gritty, dramatic music full throat while, incidentally, seeing director Elia Kazan’s gripping treatment of crime and mob influence on the New York docks, then the evening was a rousing success. If, on the other hand, you wanted to see the film with the score integrated into the movie, the evening was probably less successful.

The film is one of three being screened this weekend as part of the orchestra’s in/SIGHT series. It also marked the beginning of a three-year collaboration between the Phil and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with the orchestra playing the scores live while the movies are shown on a large screen suspended above the ensemble. My preview story is HERE.

Owing to previous commitments I was unable to see Rebel Without a Cause Thursday night and won’t be at Casablanca tomorrow afternoon, either. Others who are seeing all three films will have to judge as to whether the issues that emerged last night will also appear in the other two films. My guess is they will.

In one sense On the Waterfront was a perfect choice for this format, since Bernstein’s 50-minutes of music is less than half of the picture’s 108-long run time (there was also an intermission last night). Long stretches of the movie, therefore, have no music underlay. However, when the orchestra was playing the score it so overpowered the actors onscreen that captions were not only welcome, they were a necessity.

Although On the Waterfront was released by Columbia Pictures, it was an independent film produced by Sam Spiegel, one of many he made in the 1950s and 1960s (others included Bridge On the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, all of which won Oscars for Best Picture, making Spiegel the only person to win three Best Picture statuettes).

Needing a big name for the box office, Spiegel tapped Bernstein, who wrote what would be his only score composed expressly for a movie, although On the Town and West Side Story were adapted for the big screen. Rumor exists that Bernstein was disenchanted with the fact that director Kazan excised two segments of the score and that led to the composer’s decision to forego writing for another motion picture.

In the preconcert lecture last night, composer Laura Karpman — who has written for film, television, video games, theater, and the concert hall — said that’s the way films work; the director has the ultimate say and you know that going in.

Newman and the orchestra played the score powerfully and with their customary excellence last night. What Bernstein wrote was typical of Lenny: jazz and blues influenced, gripping, craggy and sweeping in its scope and the orchestra put all of that front and center.

As Karpman noted, seeing a movie like On the Waterfront with an orchestra playing the score live is similar to seeing a Wagnerian opera where the music often overpowers whatever is on stage. That was the case last night. However, for those who have seen On the Waterfront only on a television screen, viewing it in Disney Hall with a live orchestra was surely a revelation on several levels.

Moreover, whether Bernstein was, indeed, disenchanted with not having control of the score in the final movie or whether he feared what happened to Leonard Rosenman after the latter scored Rebel Without a Cause (“Back in the day when you went to Hollywood — for whatever reason,” said composer-conductor Scott Dunn in the Phil’s program notes for Thursday night’s screening, “you were just labeled and that was it”), Bernstein’s one film score was a masterpiece, as last night demonstrated anew.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Eva Marie Saint, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Edie Doyle, introduced the film last night, reminiscing about how she felt as she made what was her film debut. It was Saint’s only Oscar and was one of eight the movie captured that year. We should all look and sound as good as Saint when we are 92 years old.
Casablanca screens tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Disney hall with Newman conducting the L.A. Phil as it plays Max Steiner’s score. Noted film music author Jon Burlingame delivers a preconcert lecture at 1 p.m. Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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ADD: More info on L.A. Phil movie nights this week

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

The Los Angeles Philharmonic will screen three classic movies this weekend (here’s a LINK to my story on these sites) and it won’t be a one-off programming concept. Last Friday, the Phil and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (the folks who bring us the Oscars) announced that this weekend would kick off a three-year collaboration between the two groups.

rebel-4-blogNo details were announced on what might come in future years; some of that will, undoubtedly, depend on what transpires this weekend, which opens with Rebel Without a Cause on Thursday, continues with On the Waterfront on Friday and concludes with Casablanca on Sunday. INFORMATION

The media release on the new venture is HERE.
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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Class Act: On Pacific Symphony labor issues and a grand slam Beethoven piano recital by Garrick Ohlsson

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Because some, but not all, of our online sites have my column from last Sunday up yet, I am posting a link HERE.

The top half of the column deals with the ongoing labor issues at the Pacific Symphony (along with those in Ft. Worth and Pittsburgh). As of this morning, there appears to be no update on the situation and the orchestra’s upcoming concerts — including the screenings tonight and tomorrow of the movie Home Alone, with the Pacific Symphony playing John Williams’ score live — appear to be still on. An orchestra spokesperson said that talks will resume on Tuesday — talking is always a good thing. Information: www.pacificsymphony.org

ohlsson-2016At the bottom of the column is a note on Sunday evening’s recital by pianist Garrick Ohlsson (pictured left) Sunday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Ohlsson will play four (!) of Beethoven’s best-known piano sonatas, all of which contain subtitles: Pathétique, Moonlight, Waldenstein and Appassionata. Information: www.laphil.com

Check print Sunday and online (probably next week) for my preview of the upcoming L.A. Phil movie nights, featuring performances of Rebel Without a Cause on Nov. 17, On the Waterfront Nov. 18 and Casablanca Nov. 20, all with the Phil playing the scores live. Information: www.laphil.com
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: L.A. Philharmonic opens subscription season in splendid fashion

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

johnadams2016John Adams (pictured right) turns age 70 on Feb. 15, 2017, and orchestras throughout the country — most notably the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony and New York Philharmonic — are taking the opportunity to salute the man who is one of America’s most important composers, along with being a conductor and the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Creative Chair.

During this season the L.A. Phil will reprise two of Adams’ most important pieces, including El Niño and Nixon in China (but not two I would have expected to show up on the list: City Noir and Harmonielehre — perhaps early next season).

Last night as part of its opening subscription program the Phil offered the Los Angeles premiere of Adams’ Absolute Jest, a scintillating 25-minute sendup of Beethoven works, particularly two of his final string quartets.

Although there are folks who contend that you don’t need lots of information about a “new” work to enjoy it —Absolute Jest was originally composed for the San Francisco Symphony’s centennial season in 2012 and revised with 400 new bars of new opening music for a performance by the New World Symphony later that year — Adams came onstage to talk about his inspiration for the piece.

He enlisted the support of the St. Lawrence String Quartet, for whom the piece had been written, which played portions of Beethoven String Quartet in C# Minor, Op. 131 and the F Major, Op. 135 as examples of themes that Adams employed in his work. That, along with a particularly well delivered preconcert lecture by Russell Steinberg, offered excellent insight into what is undeniably an Adams creation, particularly in its rousing finale (which ended abruptly and magically with single notes from a harp and piano (both tuned slightly off pitch).

The quartet, which was seated in front of the orchestra and to the right of Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel, proved to be formidable as it weaved its solo lines into the orchestral fabric. For their part, Dudamel confidently the piece confidently, as if he had lived with it for years, and the orchestra played with its customary excellence, as if this was just another Beethoven work.

Absolute Jest definitely piece worth hearing again and you can do that either tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. in Disney Hall (INFO) or online at KUSC.org, which broadcast last night’s concert live and will have it online for the next week.

bronfman2016Perhaps not surprisingly, Dudamel elected to surround Adams’ piece with two Beethoven works. He and the orchestra opened with a magisterial rendition of the Corolian Overture and concluded with the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, with Yefim Bronfman (pictured left) as soloist.

Last summer we heard an elegant rendition of this familiar work by Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi (my review is HERE). Last night, Bronfman was equally mesmerizing in his performance, pairing a majestic opening movement and playful conclusion with a magical second movement that was absolutely exquisite, particularly in contrast to the powerful chords erupting from the orchestra.

Dudamel and the orchestra played with a passion and precision not always apparent when accompanying a soloist. Dudamel, in particular, was intensely involved although, paradoxically, that often translated into minimalist motions on the podium. It was a superb ending to a impressive opening concert, auguring well for the next eight months.

HEMIDEMISEMIQUAVERS:
• Steinberg’s preconcert lecture was one of the best I have heard. He offered several insightful windows, particularly for Absolute Jest and the fourth concerto, which were helpful not only for the occasional attender but also for those who are Phil regulars. Steinberg, who is a composer and conducts the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra — is offering a series of eight lectures from January through March in Encino on the music of Shostakovich and Prokofiev. INFO: www.russelsteinberg.com
• Although the official unveiling isn’t until today, patrons entering Disney Hall from the parking garage got “sneak-preview” look at Nimbus, a series of cloud-like structures hanging from the ceiling accompanied by music played by the Phil’s musicians. Details are HERE.
• In addition to officially unveiling Nimbus, Saturday will be an 12-hour (noon to midnight) celebration of contemporary music, including the opening program in the Phil’s “Green Umbrella” series. INFO
• While Dudamel is in New York City leading his Simón Bolivár Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela in three concerts at Carnegie Hall (INFO), Pablo Heras-Casado will be on the Disney Hall podium Oct. 7, 8 and 9 leading the Phil in Stravinsky’s complete Firebird and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, with Pierre-Laurent Aimard as soloist.

Oct. 7 is the season’s first “Casual Friday” concert. The Saturday and Sunday programs also include Ravel’s Alborada del gracioso (Morning Song of the Jester), although if the Friday program started closer to on time, it could include the second Ravel work, which lasts all of eight minutes. INFO
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(c) Copyright 2016, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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