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Angelic Concert

Los Angeles
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
05/19/2001 -  
Bela Bartok: Piano Concerto # 1
Hans Werner Henze: Undine, Suite # 2
Maurice Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe, Suite # 2

Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor)

Some random observations from my first visit to Dorothy Chandler:

1. This lovely plaza, built just before its doppelganger at Lincoln Center, is in the heart of downtown Los Angeles and yet inhabits a totally deserted neighborhood on a Saturday evening. As the graying of America’s concert venues progresses, their location is of major concern. Although the area seems reasonably safe, unlike, say Cincinnati, the ghostly lack of passersby is a bit disquieting. In Hartford, the Bushnell Auditorium has cancelled its visiting orchestra series because of fears of crime in the downtown area. Los Angeles is in the process of erecting a new concert hall, but it is just across the street from the old.
2. If you can’t fill the hall on a Saturday night, then when can you? There are 20 million people in the LA basin and yet in this acoustically satisfying building, about the same size as New York’s small Alice Tully, there were about 100 empty seats. It was also disconcerting to observe patrons drinking from bottles of soda and munching on snacks, more like a ballgame than a symphonic performance (we won’t even talk about the dress!).
3. The demographics of the crowd were extremely heartening to me. The average age was about 40, rather than the 70 plus in New York. There were also a dozen or so well-behaved children.
4. The program included the timings of each piece, printed like the notes to a compact disc. This allowed the audience to wallow in the comforting presumption that the actual music would only last one minute longer than one hour.
5. Just before concert time there was a very intrusive pre-recorded announcement which actually startled me. In this brief oration, the management warned all of its customers to disable their cellular telephones, pagers and beepers. Although everyone in Southern California has one of these infernal devices, I did not hear a single ring all evening. This recording should immediately become mandatory at all classical music events in America.

The concert itself was a mixed affair. Uchida Mitsuko began the proceedings with her highly personal reading of the Bartok 1. It was clear that this is a new piece for her and she is still honing its finished performance. Prowling the keyboard like a mountain lion, she animatedly fashioned a lyrical conception of the work, far different from Bartok’s own interpretation, but, I am sure, just as valid once the kinks are worked through. I was surprised that Esa-Pekka Salonen, highly touted as an expert in the music of the last century, provided such a muddy accompaniment with his otherwise superb orchestra. Inner voices were simply left to flounder in the mire. The architecture of this extremely revolutionary work (a friend once described it as “the folk music of another planet”) was hardly even explored in this confused setting. There was no consistent build-up in the first movement, the phrases a frustrating collection of fits and starts. Ms. Uchida was more dramatic in her extended crescendo which is the body of movement two, but I think that she is still not there yet. I would be curious to hear this concerto played by her in a year or two.

The Henze was at best a sleepy pastiche of aquatic music, a deadening sort of experience which makes drowning seem like not such a terrible alternative (totally lacking the comfortably ironic poignancy of pieces like Bax’s The Garden of Fand or Elgar’s Where Corals Lie). But this unpromising introduction led to a fabulous performance of the Ravel. Here Maestro was able to unleash his sparkling strings, that lush moment after a slight caesura simply ravishing. The LA Phil has spectacular winds, the various members of the flute family shining here. As a blended whole, this orchestra is the equal of virtually any in the US and, in this effort at least, produced a positively Rimskian sonority. On my next trip, I will try and catch some Brahms or Beethoven. I am curious as to whether Salonen is a worthy heir to the likes of Klemperer and Giulini.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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