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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OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Philharmonic gala concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

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



Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor, Herbie Hancock, piano

Gershwin: Cuban
Overture, Rhapsody in Blue, An American in Paris

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Walt Disney
Concert Hall

Information: www.laphil.com



Blue and gold were the dominant colors at Walt Disney
Concert Hall last night. No, UCLA wasn’t playing. Blue was everywhere (even the
usual red carpet was blue last night), an obvious reference to the final work
in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s season-opening gala concert: George
Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The gold
came courtesy of the performance standards from the orchestra, Music Director
Gustavo Dudamel, and legendary jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, the evening’s


In many ways, it was your standard LAPO gala. A packed house
was on hand, many dressed in formal finery. It was a late-arriving throng; more
than half struggled to wander to their seats well after the appointed 7 p.m.
start time (the downbeat came at 7:18 p.m.). TV cameras and still photogs recorded
entrances of the rich and famous. The WNET NY camera crew was on hand to record
the concert for a later PBS Great
telecast to the U.S. and Europe. Grand Ave. was closed off
(creating the usual traffic jam), this time with a faux-brick covered tent for
the post-concert party. The tent entrance was marked with a nifty art-decco
sign that also served as the logo for the dressed up, blue-colored program. The
concert ended with the now-obligatory shower of shiny blue and silver mylar
accented by strobe lights.


Fortunately (since the concert ran about 1:20 with no
intermission) there were no preconcert speeches, although Dudamel did chat a
little between pieces, saying little worthwhile but doing so with his charming
smile and accented English. The music was the focal point (especially for
non-party goers), which was as it should be.


All three of the Gershwin works on the formal program are
standard outdoor (e.g., Hollywood Bowl) pieces and it was a pleasure to hear
them indoors in the marvelous Disney Hall acoustic.


Dudamel and Co. opened with a saucy, sultry performance of
the Cuban Overture, a piece Gershwin
wrote in 1932 following a visit to Havana. As it did all night, the
Philharmonic played with razor-sharp precision and several of the soloists —
Ariana Ghez, oboe, Michelle Zukovsky, clarinet, Thomas Hooten, trumpet (see the
note in Hemidemisemiquavers below) — and the entire string section were
exemplary. Dudamel ignored Gershwin instructions, written on title page, that
the four Cuban instruments — claves, maracas, guiro and bongos — should be
placed in front of the conductor’s stand but they were heard anyway.


Most conductors would place Rhapsody in Blue following the overture and end with An American in Paris (which, indeed, was
how the Web site listed the order) but Dudamel elected to reverse the order because
of Hancock’s appearance.


Gershwin considered An
American in Paris
to be (quoting the program note by Eric Blomberg) “a tone
poem for orchestra — a musical portrait of an American visitor to the City of
Light.” Although sketches of the work were written in the early 1920s, the flavor
of the piece resulted from of an extended vacation by Gershwin and his family
to Paris in 1928. Gershwin was age 30 at the time of the visit and Dudamel’s
concept of An American in Paris is of
a young man, full of life, striding briskly, not strolling, down the streets of


The work is clearly in Dudamel’s wheelhouse (as baseball
players like to say about a perfectly placed pitch).  He bobbed, weaved, bounced and danced his way through the
saucy segments and invested the other moments with a grandiloquent style; the
whole thing should look great on television. Once again principals shone: in
this case, Hooten, James Miller, trombone, Norman Pearson, tuba, the four
saxophonists and Concertmaster Martin Chalifour.


That left center stage to Hancock, who at age 71 still can
tinkle the ivories with panache and has extended his contract as the orchestra’s
Creative Chair for Jazz through the 2012-2013 season. He began by freely
improvising on two Gershwin songs, Embraceable You and Someone to Watch Over
Unfortunately, his wistful mood was somewhat sabotaged by coughs, sneezes
and other assorted noises from the audience, some of whom may not realize how “live”
Disney Hall is.


When it comes to Rhapsody
in Blue,
Hancock and Dudamel had widely divergent opinions on tempi, but the whole was infinitely greater
than the sum of the parts, noteworthy as those individual contributions were.
After Zukovsky got things swinging with her saucy, sensuous opening clarinet lick,
Dudamel raced the orchestra along through most of the early orchestral
sections, only to broaden out in the final climactic moments. Kudos,
especially, to trumpeter James Wilt for his sultry sounds.


Hancock, meanwhile (who used a score), showed plenty of
chops while accompanying the orchestra. When not constrained by Dudamel’s
tempi, he delivered the solo portions with an improvisatory feel, even when he
was playing Gershwin’s notes, an impish grin every once in awhile saying, in
effect, to the audience, “Isn’t this cool?” It was all of that and the audience
erupted in an instantaneous standing ovation at the conclusion, with Dudamel —
always the gentleman — ceding most of the glory to Hancock, who beamed and
waved to everyone on all sides of the hall.




Hancock told the crowd that this was the first time he had
played with a symphony orchestra, forgetting that his bio says he played a
Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony at age 11 (to be fair, that was
60 years ago). He’s scheduled to play “Rhapsody
in Blue”
with the Calgary Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony and Oregon
Symphony next month.

Australian Andrew Bain has become the Phil’s new principal
horn. He has held similar positions with the Melbourne and Queensland Symphony

Daniel Rothmuller is serving as the orchestra’s Associate
Principal Cellist Emeritus while Peter Stumpf is on leave teaching at Indiana
University’s Jacobs School of Music. CK Dexter Haven in his Blog, “All is Yar,”
has much to say and speculate about this (LINK).

Thomas Hooten (principal trumpet of the Atlanta Symphony) is
on board as guest principal trumpet for the opening concerts and will play on
the upcoming tour to San Francisco while the Phil’s principal, Donald Green, is
on sabbatical. Hooten was the first recipient of the ASO’s Mabel Dorn Reeder
Honorary Chair, a five-year award according to an article by Howard Posner on
the Atlanta “Journal & Constitution” Web
site (LINK).

The L.A. Phil’s 2011-2012 subscription season opens this
weekend with an all-orchestral (i.e., no soloist) concert that includes Adams’ Tromba Iontana (a four-minute-long
fanfare), the U.S. premiere of Rituales Amerindios by Argentinean
composer Esteban Benzecry, and Berlioz’s Symphonie
Asadour Santourian, artistic advisor and administrator of Aspen Music
Festival and School, will deliver a preconcert lecture an hour before each
concert. Information and dates are at the top of this review.

If you’re not already on the email list, now is a good
time to sign up for “Fast Notes,” which are emailed from the orchestra a few
days before each event. “Fast Notes” are a quick overview of the upcoming
concert with links to program notes and other information. Even if you’re not
going to attend a particular concert, they’re worth reading. Sign up at:



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

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