Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical

Changing programs around a little

Esteban Benzecry and Gustavo Dudamel before the world premiere of "Rituales Amerindios," Canary Island Music Festival 2010 (image from video edited by Måns Pär Fogelberg)

I received an email from the Los Angeles Philharmonic a couple of days ago informing me that there would be a slight change for their October 20 & 21 programs:  instead of Tromba Lontana by John Adams, the curtain raiser will now be Short Ride on a Fast Machine (also by Adams) in a concert which also includes the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5 and the world premiere of Magnetar, an electric cello concerto written by Enrico Chapela featuring Johannes Moser as soloist.

Some brief additional research revealed that the two Adams fanfares essentially swapped places with each other, with Tromba Lontana now appearing where Short Ride on a Fast Machine was originally scheduled:  on the season opening weekend concerts along with Symphonie fantastique by Berlioz.  In addition, it appears that the Stravinsky Symphony in C has been dropped in favor of the U.S. premiere of Rituales Amerindios by Esteban Benzecry.  (Both of these programs, with the changes, are also scheduled to be performed as part of the San Francisco Symphony’s 100th Anniversary celebration concerts at Davies Symphony Hall on October 23rd and 24th).

I’m almost always up for premieres of new music, but my initial reaction was to be glad that I hadn’t yet bought tickets to the first concert weekend of the season:

  1. I was really looking forward to seeing Symphony in C performed again.  Finally.  Despite the orchestra’s penchant for programming lots of Stravinsky during the past two decades, their performances of Symphony in C have been few and far between.  The most recent performance was conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen back in 1996 at the Hollywood Bowl as a ramp-up for their now-legendary residence at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.  The last indoor performance by the LA Phil was in February 1996 at both the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Segerstrom Hall (the original one) when it was the opening piece in a concert that also included Mozart’s 40th Symphony and Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements; before that, Andrew Davis led a performance back in 1991. . . . I’m having a hard time remembering any local performance of Symphony in C since 1996.
  2. I was also looking forward to seeing/hearing in person how Gustavo Dudamel would handle Stravinsky — any Stravinsky.   Mr. Dudamel has conducted some of the Russian/Parisian/Angeleno composer’s works with his other orchestras in Gothenburg and Caracas, but he has noticeably steered clear of them so far in Los Angeles.  The LA Phil has a sterling reputation with Stravinsky, nurtured most recently by Mr. Salonen, but  extending back to local premieres in the 1920’s and 1930’s conducted by Otto Klemperer, Fritz Reiner, and the composer himself, among many others.  It’s seems a shame that Mr. Dudamel has yet to perform or program anything by Stravinsky when the orchestra has such a strong history with his works.  (Upon further reflection, even in some repertoire where GD’s and E-PS’s tastes definitely overlap — Mahler 3rd, La Mer, and Sibelius 2nd being the most noteworthy examples —  Mr. Dudamel seems to be avoiding works for which Mr. Salonen has been well known in LA).
  3. I’ve seen Symphonie fantastique waaaaay too many times.  Mrs. CKDH and I did the math recently:  counting only concerts since Walt Disney Concert Hall has opened, we have seen this particular Berlioz warhorse performed six times; this is more than any other piece during the same time period — and we don’t even like it very much!!

Esteban Benzecry (estebanbenzecry.com)

Despite all of that, we still might go to that concert.

  • First of all, CKDH, Jr., has been a huge fan of the Berlioz ever since the LA Phil launched the online Guitar-Hero-esque game featuring “March to the Scaffold” as part of the celebración welcoming Mr. Dudamel to L.A.
  • More importantly, I’m intrigued enough by the new Benzecry piece to want to see it performed live.  A quick perusal of YouTube revealed a three-movement work that is reminiscent of  Revueltas or perhaps, to a lesser extent, Ginastera:  “modern” tonalities, harmonies, and structures with rhythms and melodic snippets hinting at Central American folk music.  Of course, given that the three movements explicitly reference the Aztecs, Mayas, and Incas, one would expect some similarities to Revueltas; however, this is not a copy of his work, and Benzecry approach takes a similar thematic origin and interprets it using his own musical language.  If anything, there are places in the final movement, “Illapa (Inca thunderclap god),” which sound a bit like La Noche de los Mayas meets LA Variations. (Videos of all three movements have been embedded at the end of this post).

I know that Brian, my distinguished fellow SoCal music blogger, is very critical of Mr. Dudamel’s tenure at the head of the LA Phil, and he reiterated many of his points of disdain in a recent post.  One of his biggest gripes is the assertion that the orchestra’s current music director “has had little to say about or has shown little advocacy for new music in Los Angeles in his haphazard tenure here thus far.”  I disagree.

If Mr. Dudamel wasn’t an advocate of new music in general, it seems extremely unlikely that he would:

  • Program the premiere of a new piece, and perform it both locally and on the road.  To me, this is exactly how one “advocates” new music.  Soon, Mr. Dudamel will have done this twice:  with City Noir by John Adams and now with Rituales Amerindios.
  • Choose, for the upcoming run-out to San Francisco, four out of six pieces by living composers, plus the Prokofiev 5th as one of the remainders.
  • Argue to replace the unfinished Gorecki 4th Symphony in the recently completed “Brahms Unbound” series with the US premiere of the Benzecry.  The Brahms Double Concerto was eventually programmed instead, but it is clear in the Tavis Smiley program that was aired in December 2010 (fast forward to about 44:20) that he had preferred to replace the new Gorecki piece with another new work, and it was LA Phil President Deborah Borda and Chad Smith (VP, Artistic Planning) who are pushing for something less taxing on the musicians.
  • Led two world premieres of full-scale orchestral works in the first paid concerts of his music directorship.

So far, Mr. Dudamel’s penchant for new music seems to revolve primarily around three poles:  Bernstein, Adams, and Latin American composers.  This is certainly very different than Mr. Salonen’s predilection for Ligeti, Lutoslawski, and Scandinavian composers; whether one or the other is more to someone’s liking is a matter of taste.   Is E-PS’s new music street cred unmatched by pretty much anyone this side of Pierre Boulez?  Definitely.  Do I miss hearing as much Stravinsky, Debussy, and Bartok as E-PS used to conduct?  Absolutely.  That said, as much as I loved most of E-PS’s programming, I will be perfectly content if I never have to hear another work by Carl Nielsen or Einojuhani Rautavaara for the rest of my life.

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4 thoughts on “Changing programs around a little

  1. Thanks for the link. And since you bring it up, allow me to retort about Mr. Dudamel. I will admit that Dudamel has conducted a fair amount of “new music” so far with the LA Phil. (Although I disagree that Bernstein comes anywhere close to being this.) And while you cite an example of a substitution last year where Dudamel abandoned plans for a US premiere as a substitution in one of the Brahms’ programs, I would argue that Dudamel has taken on most of these new works more out of obligation than desire. Sure he could protest and say, “No I won’t do this”, but is he really going to refuse conducting “City Noir”, a commission the organization arranged before his tenure, as with most of those he’s conducted so far? Furthermore, if he is so committed to new commissions and premieres, why is he involved in so few of those the LA Phil has on the 2011/2012 schedule?

    And I would also offer this as just a reality check. I know of no one (who could answer such a question) who when asked what living conductor’s names come to mind when they think of new or late 20th century music would offer up that of Gustavo Dudamel.

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  2. Actually, Brian of OWA is the one who needs a reality check most of all and i am happy to help providing it for him right here. In this coming winter season of the LA Phil, the Orchestra’s Music Director is conducting the following pieces written after 1970: Orion by Vivier (1979), Distant Light by Vasks (1997), Tromba Lontana and Short Ride in a Fast Machine (both written in 1986) by Adams, Grabstein fur Stephan by Kurtag (1989), Recital for Cathy by Berio (1972), as well as world premieres of Electric Cello Concerto by Chapela (2011?), a percussion concerto by Pereira (2012?) and Gospel According to the Other Mary by Adams (2012?), West Coast premiere of Alloy by Akiho (2009) and US premiere of Rituales Amerindos by Benzecry (2008) – which is far more than “a few” and, in fact, more contemporary music and premieres than all of the guest conductors scheduled for the orchestra’s winter season combined (one full program of recent music conducted by John Adams doesn’t count because he is the orchestra’s Creative Chair and not a guest conductor, while the world premiere of Shostakovich’s Orango to be conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen doesn’t qualify as new music because the piece was written in early 1930s). And i am still waiting for OWA to present to us a long list of those music directors of major American orchestras who are conducting their own ensembles in more post-1970 music during this coming winter season than Gustavo Dudamel is doing. Actually, even a short list would be refreshing.
    Repeating baseless accusations that are not supported by the facts over and over again does not make such statements true. And the argument that Gustavo is only doing all this “out of obligation” thanks to previous commissions has now become utterly unconvincing because he did more new music during his second season as the Music Director in LA than during his first, and he is doing even more of it during his third season than he did in his second. This latest switch from a mid-last-century classic to a three-year-old infant of a piece for the opening week of the new season certainly does not fit into OWA’s “theory” at all. As for people’s perceptions, they are not necessarily always correct, especially if one does not ask the right people. As we can clearly see here, OWA’s own opinion of Gustavo’s interest in new music is grossly erroneous and therefore it is not surprising that people he has been talking to about this subject have similar misconceptions.

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  3. I agree about the last minute change in schedule – offing the Stravinsky Symphony in C. I like hearing new works very much, but I also had traded out a ticket form my series to hear Dudamel conduct the Stravinsky. The first I heard (or rather ‘read’) about the switch was in last Sunday’s LA Times calendar listing for Classical music , Friday night. Seems like an email to subscribers and donors would have been more appropriate. But at least the new season is beginning!!!!!

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  4. Pingback: A night of gods and witches: Dudamel and the LA Phil open the 2011/2012 season with Adams, Benzecry, and Berlioz « All is Yar

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