LA Philharmonic

Shostakovich's Prologue to Orango

Shostakovich-orango* Notes *
Over the weekend Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Los Angeles Philharmonic in the world premiere of Shostakovich's Prologue to Orango. The piece was orchestrated by Gerard McBurney, based on surviving piano sketches. There was relatively little singing in the 40 minutes of music, as the 11 parts included an overture and three dances. Some of the singers were difficult to hear. The Entertainer, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, blended into the sound of the large orchestra. Timur Bekbosunov (Paul M√Ęche) sang to Salonen, instead of to us. While humorous, this did not serve the music well. Yulia Van Doren was convincing as Susanna, and her vibrato seemed appropriate and controlled. Michael Fabiano sounded sweet and sufficiently loud as the Zoologist. Eugene Brancoveanu gave a committed performance in the title role. Though he sang rather little, it was obvious how beautiful his voice is.

The concepts behind Peter Sellars' staging looked like they had been pulled together in less than five minutes. We were shown images of Occupy Wall Street, a Rhesus monkey with pins in its skull, fighter planes, citrus fruits, and so on and so forth. Members of the chorus (the Los Angeles Master Chorale) were dressed in orange, disregarding the fact that the words orange and orangutan are not related. The fruit (and color) are from Sanskrit via Arabic and the first half of the animal name comes from Malay for "man." There were moments of the production that were interesting, especially when Orango jumps from his pedestal and attacks Susanna, who was seated in the first row of the Orchestra Level. Overall the proceedings were not cohesive, and a concert version of the work would have been less insulting to the intelligence of even this audience.

The second half of the evening was devoted to Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4. Salonen made sharp distinctions between the parts of the piece, but kept the music moving. The differences in tempi and volume were all clear. The orchestra did sound a bit muddy, but there were no egregious errors. The symphony ended gorgeously, melting into silence.

* Tattling * 
The audience in the terrace was appallingly ill-behaved. Of 10 people in our immediate vicinity, 9 spoke during the music. More than one person fell asleep during the second piece. My companion tapped the knee of someone snoring in Row P to wake him up, and the offending person was irate, asking the person with him repeatedly if he had been making noise. After the performance there was rather ridiculous confrontation between awakener and woken.


Dudamel conducts LA Phil in Adams, Benzecry, & Berlioz

Gustavo-dudamel-lapa_low* Notes * 
Los Angeles Philharmonic and Gustavo Dudamel (pictured left, photograph courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association) returned for a second performance at San Francisco Symphony on Monday night. This program also began with a fanfare from John Adams, this time the more meditative Tromba lontana. The playing was fine, though perhaps a bit more shimmer to the strings would have been nice. The second piece, Esteban Benzecry's Rituales Amerindios, was rife with literal representations of nature. Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique rounded out the evening. The woodwinds sounded impressively demonic, particularly the clarinet. There were sharp contrasts of both dynamics and tempi, but somehow the piece lacked a certain tension. The encore was the Hungarian March from of Berlioz's La damnation de Faust, which was played with great vigor and volume.

* Tattling * 
The audience silent with the exception of the woman whispering in Row L Seat 3 on the Orchestra Level. There was a distinct smell of cannabis emanating from someone in center section of Row J after the intermission.


Dudamel conducts LA Phil in Adams, Chapela, & Prokofiev

Gustavo-dudamel* Notes * 
Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel (pictured left, photograph by Mathias Bothor courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon), marked the first of six visiting American orchestras to take residency at San Francisco Symphony with Sunday's performance. The program began with Short Ride in a Fast Machine from John Adams. The piece does not pull punches, and the playing was clean if not slightly brash. Enrico Chapela's amusing MAGNETAR, Concerto for Electric Cello and Orchestra followed. The soloist, Johannes Moser, gave a credible performance. The employment of gesture, the mimicry of speech, and the heavy metal sensibility of the work were all quite entertaining, but one is not certain it all held together coherently. The last piece on the program was Prokofiev's Fifth. The brass was clear and bright. The tempi distinctions were subtle, and the slower movements were somewhat lax, but the faster movements were more vibrant. The encore was the opening of the Gavotta: Non troppo allegro of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, which was played with a lovely sense of motion.

* Tattling * 
The audience whispered a little, but was, for the most part, silent. The beginning of MAGNETAR elicited restless laughter. Both Adams and Chapela were present, and were applauded with vigor. Someone's cellular phone vibrated in Section D of the 1st Tier during the second movement of the Prokofiev.


Dudamel conducts City Noir

Adams-dudamel * Notes * 
On Friday Gustavo Dudamel conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a program of Esa-Pekka Salonen, Lou Harrison, and John Adams. The Salonen is heavily orchestrated in the manner of much contemporary music, with a plethora of percussion, including six bongos and four tom-toms. Dudamel kept the volume to non-deafening levels, even if the brass did have harsh moments. The Piano Concerto from Harrison that followed had significantly fewer orchestra members on stage. At times it seemed that the soloist, Marino Formenti, and the orchestra were not playing in the same piece. This kept the music quite interesting, in any case. Formenti's playing was appealing and sensitive, yet could be brutal.

City Noir had a world premiere at LA Phil last month, but John Adams was in attendance nonetheless. The work has nearly twice as many sorts of percussive instruments as the first piece. The musicians seemed together and engaged, the viola solo in the second movement was particularly fine, as was the trumpet solo in the last movement. If nothing else, Dudamel certainly conveyed excitement.

* Tattling * 
There was no whispering or talking in the Terrace View, and very little noise in general from this section. Coughs could be heard throughout the hall. It was remarkable to see how few empty seats there were, given that the program consisted entirely of new music.


Salonen conducts Beethoven's 5th

Salonen * Notes *
Esa-Pekka Salonen is currently conducting LA Phil in a program which includes his own Violin Concerto, Ligeti's Clocks and Clouds, and Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. Today's 11am performance was quite packed, since it is a part of a three-week celebration that marks the end of Salonen's tenure as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The festivities this morning started with a short film on Salonen's career in LA, followed by the Ligeti. Clocks and Clouds had a particular sort sustained droning, a pretty shimmering sound. The piece seems scored with female voices instead of violins, and the ghostly sounds the women of the Los Angeles Master Chorale produced were absolutely lovely. At other times they sounded like a flock of unidentifiable beasts, each intoning calls to one another. The effect was strangely arresting.

The soloist for the Salonen, Leila Josefowicz, appeared grounded and played with great intensity. The first movement had a folkish aspect, but with a certain etherealness as well. Movement III - Pulse II was the most fun, it involves a drum kit and a good deal of flirtiness. In contrast, the ending was rather forlorn.

Beethoven's 5th was played with relative restraint, without unnecessary bombast. The orchestra sounded bright here, and Salonen sense of phrasing comes out distinctly. The horns never blared, and only had a few brief moments of wooliness. The woodwinds did have a few seconds of incohesiveness in the slow movement. The last movement was suitably triumphant.

* Tattling * 
After a five hour drive to get to this performance, the box office could not find my ticket. Apparently I need use the NATO phonetic alphabet when spelling out my name over the phone. Then I managed to sit the terrace instead of the front orchestra, and had to scramble around to find the correct seat. Thankfully everyone involved was very nice to a rather harried and sleep-deprived Tattler.

The acoustics of Walt Disney Concert Hall are such that not only can one hear every sound of the musicians, but also of the audience members. This is especially terrible in the case of quiet music, in the Ligeti there was a veritable chorus of coughs from every direction. It seemed to me that if one person was to unwrap a candy in quite far away from where one was sitting, it could sit be heard and was not buffered by the presence other people or by the structure of the seating. Acoustically, everyone is exposed.

The audience was fairly good, impatient at the Ligeti but still quiet, attentive to the Salonen, and more relaxed with Beethoven. Either someone's hearing aid or some recording device made rather loud, high-pitched sounds during the loudest parts of the Beethoven.