OVERNIGHT REVIEW: A musically and visually superb “Creation”

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Los Angeles Master Chorale
Alberto Arvelo, video artistdirector
James F. Ingalls, lighting designer
Rachele Gilmore, soprano
Joshua Guerrero, tenor
Johannes Kammler, baritone
Next performances: today at 2 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m. (without videos)
Information: www.laphil.com

We are in the midst of a 10-day stretch when the Los Angeles Philharmonic has programmed three different oratorios, each performance with its own unique twist.

Next Thursday and Saturday, noted French-Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie is scheduled to lead the Phil in performances of Handel’s Messiah, with Labadie’s own choral ensemble, La Chapelle du Québec, singing the choral parts.

Next Friday and Dec. 18, the Phil and Los Angeles Master Chorale will perform a 21st century telling of the nativity story, El Niño, with the composer, John Adams, conducting both performances as part of the Phil’s year-long celebration of Adams’ 70th birthday, which actually occurs on Feb. 15.

Last night brought Haydn’s 1797 oratorio, The Creation, with LAPO Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel conducting 62 members of the Master Chorale and an orchestra reduced to equally appropriate numbers — both ensembles performing with their customary excellence — and three superb vocal soloists: soprano Rachele Gilmore, tenor Joshua Guerrero and baritone Johannes Kammler.

However, what made the evening unusual were that Dudamel’s Venezuelan counterpart, Alberto Arvelo, and lighting designer extraordinaire James F. Ingals combined to create a highly evocative video accompaniment to Haydn’s musical-portrait music.

Only once or twice have I experienced a program where the visuals added measurably to the enjoyment; more often, they’ve been a detriment or, at best, a confusion. Last night was the exception.

It began with the setting. Orchestra and chorus members were dressed in all black, as was Dudamel. The choristers were seated not in the choral benches but on risers directly behind the back row of the orchestra. Lighting for all was subdued.

The soloists were in between the two ensembles and were dressed in all white. That allowed Ingals’ subtle lighting changes to gently spotlight the soloists without having to be overbearing. Throughout the evening, the lighting cast a provocative mood over the entire proceedings.

Meanwhile, Arvelo used the ceiling, sides, and the seats and organ pipes above the empty choral bench seats as the backdrop for his shifting images to illustrate the texts and, in the case of the opening orchestral movement, the earth before creation, or as Haydn called it The Representation of the Chaos. Throughout the evening Arvelo used creation images from cultures around the world, including Africa, Japan, South America and native Californians.

In the preconcert lecture, Arvelo (a film maker whose work includes The Liberator, for which Dudamel wrote the score) noted that the creative process was turned upside down from his normal working procedure. “Instead of creating the movie and adding in the music,” he said, “in this case I had the music and texts and added the visual metaphors; they became poetry of images.” However you describe it, the entire visual integration was exemplary from beginning to end.

By the way, if you are dead-set against the use of projections, Sunday afternoon’s performance will be without the visuals.

The texts were in English. Haydn used simultaneous English and German versions of the texts, which — as program annotator John Magnum — noted made this the first major work printed with bilingual texts. The words — from the first two chapters of Genesis in the Bible, portions of the Psalms and some sections from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, may have been intended originally for Handel.

Although the texts last night were projected on the edges of the front balconies, most of the time the supertitling was unnecessary as both chorus and soloists sang with excellent diction.

All three soloists were excellent individually and they blended well in their trios. Gilmore was impressive both for her tone and in her melissmas, Guerrero’s tenor line was clean and effortless and Kammler’s voice was bright throughout his many solos.

Dudamel conducted with a score but did not use a baton. Instead, he used his expressive hands to encourage his singers — if Master Chorale Artistic Director Grant Gershon ever decides to take a sabbatical, Dudamel would make an excellent replacement. Even for, or perhaps especially for, those of us who have sung this work, it was an impressive performance.

• The first LAPO performance of The Creation was conducted in 1960 by Sir Georg Solti in (I presume) Philharmonic Auditorium. It was probably one of Solti’s last performances with the Phil; a year later Dorothy Chandler named Zubin Mehta as assistant conductor without bothering to inform Solti ahead of time. Thus the Hungarian conductor’s appointment as LAPO Music Director ended before it even began and the Mehta era came to pass, instead.
• Information on the Phil’s Messiah performances is HERE. Information on the El Niño performances is HERE.

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

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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Lionel Bringuier, Yuja Wang and the L.A. Phil at Hollywood Bowl

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Lionel Bringuier, conductor; Yuja Wang, piano

Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3; Tchaikovsky: Symphony
No. 5

Tuesday, August 2, 2011 Hollywood Bowl

Next concert: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. (Joana Carneiro, conductor

Info: www.hollywoodbowl.com




Last night’s Hollywood Bowl concert was supposed to have
been tinged with sadness because it was to be the final concert in Lionel
Bringuier’s four-year tenure with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the first as two
assistant conductor and the last two as associate conductor. However, earlier
in the day the Phil announced that Bringuier (pictured right) had been promoted to a new
position, resident conductor, for the next two seasons (LINK).

It’s unclear whether his duties will be any different than
those of associate conductor but, based on last night (and what we have been
hearing for the past four years), it’s a savvy move by the Phil’s management to
keep Bringuier connected with the orchestra.


That wasn’t the only reason for celebration last night,
because the soloist for the evening was Chinese pianist Yuja Wang, who — like
Bringuier — is just 24 years old. She’s becoming a regular on LAPO schedules
and with good reason: she’s a pianist with a formidable technique who also
happens to exude a great deal of musicianship in her playing. It also may (or
may not) be worth mentioning that she came on stage last night wearing the
shortest dress I’ve ever seen a female pianist wear, an orange sheath that elicited
gasps from the audience.


Her vehicle last night was Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.
3 and her performance also took everyone’s breath away. Like her more
celebrated compatriot, Lang Lang, she played the fast sections VERY fast, so
much so that her hands were a blur on the large video screens on either side of
the stage. Unlike Lang, however, she often sat quietly at the keyboard except
for the requisite power needed to sail through Rach 3’s bravura sections.


Yet for me, what I also take away from the performance were
the quiet sections, particularly a few measures in the first movement that
became an exquisite example of musical collaboration between Wang, Clarinetist
Lorin Levee, Flutist Catherine Ransom Karoly and Oboist Marion Arthur Kuszyk.


Bringuier kept his eyes focused on Wang throughout the
traversal as he and the orchestra did their best to bend to her tempo changes (the
shifts weren’t particularly willful; they’re just Rachmaninoff). Overall, it
was an invigorating performance; the concerto’s whiz-bang ending always elicits
an instant standing ovation but this time the crowd, which numbered 7,493 was remarkably
— and deservedly — vociferous.


Wang returns to Walt Disney Concert Hall November 4, 5 and 6
when her vehicle is Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 (James Conlon will conduct
INFO) When individual tickets go on sale Aug. 21, you would be well advised
to lock in your ducats before they sell out.


After intermission, Bringuier led the Phil in Tchaikovsky’s
Symphony No. 5. There was more than a little irony in the fact that Bringuier’s
final Phil concert was supposed to conclude with this piece, because it was
with this symphony that Gustavo Dudamel made his LAPO debut in 2005 at the Bowl
(click HERE for Alan Rich’s prescient review from that September evening).


Alan (who died in 2010) was also very bullish on Bringuier;
one wonders what he would have thought of the young Frenchman’s brash take on
this familiar work. If you like your Tchaikovsky grandiose, then this wasn’t a
night for you. Instead, Bringuier stripped away the pomposity and led a bracing,
thought-provoking performance.


Even with the Bowl’s limited rehearsal schedule, Bringuier
got the strings to play with a lean sound that allowed the many wind solos to
come through clearly (it helped that the amplification was on good behavior
last night). The opening was somber, highlighted by Lorin Levee’s clarinet
solos, one of many times for the Phil’s veteran Principal Clarinetist to shine.
Moreover, Bringuier dared to draw out the silences in that opening section, not
easy amid rolling bottles and chirping crickets.


Conducting without a score, Bringuier essentially played the
symphony in two large movements, taking almost no time between the first and
second movement or between the final two sections. His tempos reflected their
descriptions to the max; after the first-movement opening, the Allegro con anima section was, indeed,
animated, and in the final movement the Allegro
really emphasized the vivace appellation.
Even the third movement, while having some lilting qualities, propelled forward
a real sense of urgency.


Overall, this was (no surprise) a young person’s guide to
the symphony. With it came an amazing amount of thought for someone who is
still learning his art. It also demonstrated exciting prospects for what the
future holds for him … and, hopefull, for us, as well.




With temperatures having soared over the century mark in
the afternoon, nearly all of the men elected not to wear white dinner jackets,
although a couple donned them after intermission. The balmy evening actually
was one of the most pleasant in recent memory.

Among my memories from the Tchaikovsky were the unusually
tender horn solo at the beginning of the second movement, played by Eric
Overholt, and the sharp brass section attacks that echoed off the nearby
hillsides — quite an interesting effect.

With Principal Concermaster Martin Chalifour off for the
evening, Nathan Cole — the orchestra’s new First Associate Concertmaster (and
holder of the Ernest Fleischmann Chair) slid over into the first chair.

It’s amazing to consider that 50 years from now there will
undoubtedly be people who will listen to Bringuier conduct and Wang play … or
maybe not so amazing. Fifty years ago, Zubin Mehta was named the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s assistant conductor (he was 25 at the time); less than a year
later, he became the orchestra’s music director. And I can still visualize
sitting spellbound in front of my black-and-white television watching
16-year-old Andre Watts as soloist in Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Leonard
Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic on a Young People’s Concert on Jan. 15, 1963. Both Mehta and Watts are still going strong (in fact, Watts will
appear the Phil at the Bowl on August 23 as soloist in Liszt’s second piano
concerto — INFO).



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

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