OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Back to school with the L.A. Philharmonic

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (pictured at Hollywood Bowl) conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic yesterday in a free Neighborhood Concert at Rosemead High School. (Photo by Los Angeles Times)

Since 1991 the Los Angeles Philharmonic has sponsored “Neighborhood Concerts,” free programs that range from chamber music to youth orchestras to the full L.A. Phil to what it terms “neighborhoods underrepresented in our audiences.” What that translates to is, “attending concerts in Walt Disney Concert Hall (and, to a lesser extent, Hollywood Bowl) are too expensive for many people to afford.”

Some of these events are held in churches. Some take place in areas where the Phil has a presence through its Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles (YOLA). However, yesterday’s concert at Rosemead High School was somewhat of a departure since neither part of that first sentence applies. Instead, kudos to L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, the El Monte Union High School District, the high school and the Phil for making yesterday’s event possible.

In truth, it was a massive amount of logistical work for 35 minutes or so of music, but no one in the large, exuberant crowd seemed to mind the short program. The orchestra certainly took the afternoon seriously: the dress standards were what one normally sees for a Sunday program at Disney Hall (black suits for the men, black outfits for the women), many of the orchestra’s first-chair players were onstage (including Principal Concertmaster Martin Chalifour) and the playing was first rate.

Moreover, the afternoon’s leader was the Phil’s associate conductor, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, who last year was named music director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in England, a prestigious position previously held by Sir Simon Rattle and then Andris Nelsons.

The musical selections seemed a bit curious for the Rosemead audience, many whom had obviously never attended a Phil concert before. The afternoon opened with a crackling rendition of Johann Strauss Jr.’s Overture to ZZZDie Fledermaus, and continued with sparkling performances of Strauss Jr.’s ZZZOn the Beautiful Blue Danube, The Gypsy Baron Overture and ZZZPizzacata Polka.

Gražinytė-Tyla was in her element as a conductor and bubbly as she briefly introduced the music, acknowledging that it was more in tune with a New Year’s Eve program in Vienna — the school could have made hearing easier had it provided her with a microphone, although she was audible and understandable to most, even in the mezzanine where I sat.

With her flowing arms and hands and her penchant for bouncing and dancing on the podium, Gražinytė-Tyla was in her element in this dance-oriented program. She shaped phrases lovingly and played with the tempos expertly during the first five pieces. More importantly, she continues to impress with her ability to elicit top-quality music making from the Phil.

During the program’s final piece — Johann Strauss Sr.’s ZZZRadetsky March — Gražinytė-Tyla had the audience (literally) in the palm of her hand as she choreographed the beginning and cessation of clapping with gusto. It may well be that in the decades to come those in attendance will realize they were able to see this young, dynamic conductor near the beginning of what most in the business believe will be an important career.

The next Neighborhood concert is scheduled for Monday, April 24, at 7 p.m. at St. Thomas the Apostle Church, 2760 West Pico Blvd. (at Mariposa) in Los Angeles, CA. Program details have yet to be announced.

Gražinytė-Tyla will be on the podium at Disney Hall on March 31, April 1 and 2 leading a program that includes Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, K. 491, with Stephen Kovacevich as soloist; Haydn’s Symphony No. 31, “Hornsignal,” and the U.S. premiere of Georg Frederich Haas’s Concerto grosso No. 1 for 4 alphorns and orchestra, with the hornroh modern alphorn quartet as soloists. Because March 31 is a “Casual Friday” concert, the Haas work will be omitted. Information: www.laphil.com

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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