There was a time not too long ago that had you mentioned that a fair-haired, mop top, wunderkind conductor was standing on the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s podium, your image would have been of an Englishman rather than a Venezuelan. Simon Rattle (not yet knighted) was Principal Guest Conductor from 1981 to 1994, though as the second half of that tenure progressed, his appearances grew increasingly sporadic. He appeared a precious few more times through the end of the decade. There were some highs (a memorable, dare I say definitive, performance of Beethoven’s Ninth at the Hollywood Bowl), and some lows (a Mahler 4th that included the biggest, most glaring mistake I’ve heard by a professional orchestral musician), and then . . . well, nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
Sure, he had this gig in Berlin to handle, but we were like family here in Los Angeles, right? Apparently, not so much. He had seemingly moved on, with his only U.S. appearances occurring in Philadelphia. He came to Los Angeles during the first decade after the turn of The Millennium, but only to conduct his trusty Berliners.
So it was with much rejoicing that after 12 years away, Sir Simon returned to conduct the LA Phil this past weekend, this time bringing bona fide family along: his wife, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená. Before he even conducted a single note on Friday, he received a loud, prolonged ovation. Clearly, the anticipation was high.
He did not disappoint. Far from it. He kicked some serious ass. I don’t think I’ve heard the orchestra play this well and sound this good in all aspects — technically, lyrically, emotionally — regardless of who was on the podium.
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