All Reviews / Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical / Reviews 2012/2013

Catching up with the LA Phil: one post, three concert reviews

Claire Booth (as Max), Daníel Bjarnason, and Robin Ticciati

Continuing my efforts to clear my mental backlog of things I’ve wanted to write about during the past two weeks but couldn’t, below are my (slightly abridged) thoughts on three Los Angeles Philharmonic concerts from last week, specifically:

  • Gustavo Dudamel’s multimedia concert featuring Ravel and Knussen
  • The first Green Umbrella concert of the year, with John Adams conducting works by Daníel Bjarnason and Nico Muhly
  • Robin Ticciati conducting Liadov and Sibelius, plus Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto with Lars Vogt

—– Friday, October 12, 2012

For his last program with the LA Phil this calendar year, Mr. Dudamel conducted music by Maurice Ravel and Oliver Knussen which featured live animation directed and designed by Netia Jones.  Both works on the program, Ravel’s orchestral suite of Mother Goose and Knussen’s one-act opera of Where the Wild Things Are, were inspired by stories for children.  Ravel’s suite was even written originally for young children as a piano four-hands work.  But successful performances of these works aren’t child’s play.

With the help of Ms. Jones whimsical video creations, the evening certainly evoked the wonder of childhood.  Where the Wild Things Are was given a highly-charged and thoroughly enjoyable performance by Mr. Dudamel and the orchestra.  Claire Booth sparkled in the lead role of Max; amplified voices often sound tinny in Walt Disney Concert Hall, but her voice sounded clear through the sound system and was well balanced with the orchestra.

Mother Goose did not fare nearly as well.  The LA Phil played it cleanly and warmly, but Mr. Dudamel’s take was uneven.  He was not able to extract the variety of color and timbre that the orchestra often produces, the various parts never came together to form a cohesive whole, and the final climax of the Fairy Garden was underwhelming.

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—– Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group opened this season’s Green Umbrella series with a world premiere of Daníel Bjarnason’s Over Light Earth, plus concertos by Mr. Bjarnason and Nico Muhly and a couple of Mr. Muhly’s pleasant orchestral arrangements of older works.  John Adams, the orchestra’s Creative Chair, conducted.

I enjoyed the two concertos the most:

  • Seeing is Believing by Mr. Muhly, in its West Coast premiere, is the first work for electric violin that I’ve ever liked, and even though it went on a little too long, the smooth harmonies and effective use of live looping offered much to appreciate.  More importantly, electronic effects and distortion were not overdone and were well integrated with all the acoustic instruments throughout the piece.  Thomas Gould played the solo part with eloquent virtuosity.
  • The U.S. premiere of Mr. Bjarnason’s cello concerto,  Bow to String, was a slightly more challenging work, though as Green Umbrella concerts go, it certainly still counts as ear candy.  It moves from a rollicking opening to what Mr. Adams described perfectly as an Icelandic tango before seemlessly transitioning to an elegaic ending.  Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir dug into the solo cello part with great fervor and received the loudest applause of the evening.

Over Light Earth’s bracing chunks of opening chords eventually recede into a mix of other patterns the way a Scandinavian Winter crackles and pops on its way to becoming Spring.  I appreciated it, but it didn’t grab me and I certainly didn’ like it as much as many other people seem to have — at least this first time I heard it.  I need to and want to hear it again.

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—– Sunday, October 21, 2012

This concert conducted by Robin Ticciati and featuring Lars Vogt as piano soloist on was one-third appealing, one-third wonderful, and one-third annoying.

The appealing:

  • The Rachmaninoff 2nd Piano Concerto and Sibelius 2nd Symphony are two of my favorite works, and the Liadov’s The Enchanted Lake is easy-to-digest.
  • I missed Mr. Ticciati’s first appearance at WDCH a couple of years ago, and based on the positive reviews and good word of mouth from that visit, I was looking forward to seeing/hearing him for myself.  Generally speaking, it was worth it.  Among his mentors is Simon Rattle, and he seems to have picked up Sir Simon’s method of conducting underhand to go along with the older Brit’s curly mop-top.
  • I’ve seen Mr. Vogt perform a couple of times before, and I’ve found his past performances to be interesting, even probing.

The wonderful:

  • The Enchanted Lake was feathery, wafting about as light and airy as was possible.
  • I can’t imagine that a professional performance of the Rach 2 is ever NOT going to be enjoyable.   It’s a lot like ice cream — even allegedly bad ice cream is enjoyable and worth enjoying.  This performance was definitely not bad ice cream.  It was played beautifully, both by Mr. Vogt and the orchestra.
  • The last time I heard the LA Phil perform the Sibelius 2nd, it was quirky and distorted thanks to Lorin Maazel’s fussy interpretation. Thankfully, this performance managed to purge those bad memories. Mr. Ticciati opted for a big, lush sound, and the orchestra gave it to him.  More importantly, the interpretive statements he chose to make were not at the expense of momentum and he generally stayed true to the notes on the page.  On balance, I liked it.  BUT . . .

The annoying:

  • The Rachmaninoff often felt disjointed.  Soloist and conductor seemed to be at cross purposes with very different conceptions of the work:  Mr. Ticciati wanting things big and bigger, while Mr. Vogt tended towards an introverted approach that verged on intimate — if intimate is desirable or even possible in the outer movements of the Rach 2.  This gave the performance a schizophrenic feel, plus the piano’s sound was often swallowed up by the orchestra (more so than usual).
  • If you like your Sibelius to sound like Tchaikovsky meets Mahler, then you’d love this interpretation.  But if instead you prefer your Sibelius to actually sound like Sibelius, you’d have been disappointed.  In the versions of the Sibelius 2nd I prefer, the fourth movement can feel  heroic and cathartic; in Mr. Ticciati’s hands, it was merely another lush, big movement to follow three other lush, big movements.  There are worse ways to approach this symphony (ahem, Maazel), but there are many better ones.

Los Angeles Philharmonic: October 12, 2012; Walt Disney Concert Hall
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Netia Jones, Director, Designer and Video Artist
Claire Booth, Max
Susan Bickley, Mama and Tzippy’s voice/Female Wild Thing
Christopher Lemmings, Moyshe/Wild Thing with Beard
Jonathan Gunthorpe, Aaron/Wild Thing with Horns
Graeme Broadbent, Emil/Rooster Wild Thing
Graeme Danby, Bernard/Bull Wild Thing
Charlotte McDougal

RAVEL: Mother Goose (with video)
KNUSSEN: Where the Wild Things Are (with video)

Green Umbrella: October 16, 2012; Walt Disney Concert Hall
LA Phil New Music Group
John Adams, conductor
Thomas Gould, violin
Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir, cello

BYRD: Two Motets (arr. Muhly)
MUHLY: Seeing is Believing (electric violin concerto) (West Coast Premiere)
TRADITIONAL: Tvísöngur (arr. Muhly)
BJARNASON: Over Light Earth (world premiere; LA Phil co-commission)
BJARNASON: Bow to String (U.S. premiere)

Los Angeles Philharmonic:  October 21, 2012; Walt Disney Concert Hall
Robin Ticciati, conductor
Lars Vogt, piano

LIADOV: The Enchanted Lake
RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18
SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43

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Photo credits:

  • Claire Booth:  production photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association
  • Daníel Bjarnason:  photo by Börkur Sigþórsson
  • Robin Ticciati:  photo by Chris Christoforou
  • Oliver Knussen:  photo by Maurice Foxall
  • Lars Vogt:  photo by Felix Broede
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