LA Phil tuning up the programs they are taking on tour (part 2 of 3): Dudamel swings for the fences with “La mer” & “Firebird”
March 8, 2013 1 Comment
“I think that Debussy is, perhaps, the most important composer of this century. I also happen to think that today, the future of classical music has a lot to do with Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, and less to do with Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern.
The relationship between Debussy and Stravinsky is particularly interesting. First of all, young Stravinsky was very much influenced by Debussy’s music, but also Debussy was one of the few people who understood what Stravinsky was trying to do . . . and the relationship between these two men was one of the most interesting chapters in music of this century.”
– Esa-Pekka Salonen, In Rehearsal (DVD), 1997
Back at the beginning of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2012/2013 season, Gustavo Dudamel conducted the world premiere of Symphony by Steven Stucky and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, taking direct aim at repertoire that have been veritably owned by his predecessor, Esa-Pekka Salonen. For this past weekend’s concerts, he doubled down with another concert of two more of Mr. Salonen’s calling cards, Debussy’s La mer and The Firebird by Stravinsky.
The natural inclination to juxtapose the two conductors in this repertoire is particularly strong:
- First, Mr. Dudamel is choosing to conduct La mer in his fourth season as Music Director, the same point in Mr. Salonen’s tenure that he decided to record it for Sony, thereby allowing listeners to directly compare their interpretations after each have had roughly the same amount of time to lead the orchestra.
- Second, Mr. Salonen and the LA Phil happened to perform and record both La mer and The Firebird for DG near the end of his tenure with the orchestra. This makes it easy to compare interpretations that are separated by just a few years.
Mr. Dudamel’s versions of these works invite particular scrutiny because he and the LA Phil will be performing them on their upcoming trip to Europe and New York. Given that the rest of the music to be done on tour is much newer, these early 20th century classics will undoubtably be the most well-known works those audiences will hear. For all intents and purposes, they will serve as the yard-stick against which both orchestra and conductor will be measured while on the road — all the contemporary works could be hits, but if the Debussy and the Stravinsky miss the mark with out-of-town audiences and journalists, it would be disappointing to say the very least.
I had the good fortune to be able to attend two performances of this program, just as I had done with the season opener. I am happy to say that they were both concerts this weekend were very good. Yet while I’d describe those dazzling season-opening concerts as home runs — perhaps even grand slams — this past weekend’s concerts were doubles to the gap that could have been legged-out for triples but weren’t: welcome accomplishments in any case, but the latest pair felt like an opportunity not fully realized.