Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical

News about many conductors; a comment about a critic, a pianist, and a dress

Jeffrey Kahane, Lionel Bringuier, Jorge Mester, and Grant Gershon

I am still trying to piece together the data for the next installment of my analysis of Gustavo Dudamel’s penchant for new music (as promised in my previous post); however, these things take time and the day job keeps getting in the way.  In the meantime, it seems like every time you turned around recently, there was news about one local conductor or another, a bit of unfortunate conductor news out of NY, and a really unfortunate set of comments about a particularly tiny dress:

First, the bad news:  The New York Times reported that George Manahan, Music Director of the New York City Opera (NYCO) since 1996, will lose his job.  In fact, NYCO is abolishing the position of Music Director entirely.  Another sad and unfortunate result of NYCO’s fiscal and artistic woes.

Now that that’s taken care of . . .

Jeffrey Kahane:  This rush of conductor news actually started a couple weeks ago when Lisa Hirsch posted that Jeffrey Kahane, the L.A. Chamber Orchestra’s distinguished music director, would be acting in his alternate musical personality as distinguished pianist to fill in for an indisposed Menahim Pressler up north at last night’s “Music@Menlo” festival concert.  Given that he had to withdraw himself from last year’s festival, I thought it was a nice poetic touch.

Lionel Bringuier:  Then came the happy news of Liongel Bringuier’s promotion to be the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first ever “Resident Conductor.”  He describes his new responsibilities as follows:

“If the conductor wants to listen in the hall to hear a little bit how does it sound, then he usually asks the cover conductor to come and conduct part of the rehearsal.  And then of course, if the conductor gets sick, then the cover conductor is here to conduct the end of the concert. . . . When I am not covering the concerts, I will conduct the orchestra in both venues:  at the Hollywood Bowl and at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.”

Um, sounds a lot like his previous jobs as Associate Conductor and Assistant Conductor.  Of course, the new job comes with a bit more prestige, probably more pay, and let’s hope some more subscription performances.   Regardless, I was very glad to hear that the orchestra — and by extension, those of us local music fans — would be keeping him around for longer.

Yuja Wang strides into the Hollywood Bowl (photo: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

I think of all the fine staff conductors that the LA Phil has had since the Previn era, and while many of them have gone on to have successful careers after their tenure with the orchestra, I don’t think I can remember anyone quite so polished at so young an age.  He’s quite a talent who has earned great respect from the orchestra and the critics going all the way back to his first time conducting the orchestra at the ripe old age of 20 when he took over a Toyota Symphony for Youth (TSFY) concert with no rehearsal and earned glowing reviews.   I especially remember a subsequent TSFY concert when the battery/transmitter of his clip-on microphone fell out of his breast pocket in mid-conducting-gesture; he corralled the flopping packet with his left hand and deftly put it back into his pocket, all while unfailingly keeping the beat with his right hand.

The same evening that Mr. Bringuier’s promotion was announced, he stepped onto the Hollywood Bowl stage to conduct a pair of well-ridden warhorses, the Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony and Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto with Yuja Wang as soloist (she didn’t cancel this time).  He then went to Tanglewood to conduct the Boston Symphony in the Tchaikovsky 5th again, this time matched with “The Moldau” by Smetena and the Mozart 22nd Piano Concerto with Emmanuel Ax.  Mark Swed and Bob Thomas reviewed the Bowl concerts, while Andrew Pincus, writing for the Berkshire Eagle, covered the Tanglewood concert.

  • BTW:  was anybody else at least a little creeped out by Mark Swed’s obsession over Yuja Wang’s dress?  I totally understand the need to mention Ms. Wang’s wardrobe choice for the evening — it was clearly one hell of a dress, and I certainly have no problems admiring a beautiful woman with a high hemline and 10cm heels.  Mr. Thomas’s review kept the focus on the evening’s music while still managing to convey his reaction to the dress, and all without resorting to the feeble attempt at flair for the dramatic (or perhaps humor?) displayed by Mr. Swed — who spent all or portions of four paragraphs infatuated with Ms Wang’s outfit and its implications.  Just a sampling:
“Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult. Had her heels been any higher, walking, to say nothing of her sensitive pedaling, would have been unfeasible. . . . But there Wang was, projected in leering close-up on the Bowl’s video screens . . . “

Ew.  It seems like Mr. Swed is the one doing the leering.  That just screams “dirty old man” to me, not “chief music critic of the Los Angeles Times.”  Forgive me for expecting a bit more.  David Patrick Stearns goes three or four steps further down the same path in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer when he offers an entire article talking about “the hair and clothes (or lack of same)” of classical musicians, but at least he devotes a separate column to it instead of including it in a concert review.   Where’s Opera Chic when you need her?

UPDATE:  Ann Midgette offers her own detailed thoughts, and also links to many other relevant blogs HERE.

Jorge Mester et al:  Mr. Thomas posted a story about the former Music Director of the Pasadena Symphony being appointed as the new Artistic Director of the Young Musicians Foundation, overseeing the organization and its Debut Orchestra.  While I was happy to hear that, I was also interested to read Mr. Thomas’s account of some younger conductors:

  • The New York Philharmonic naming Case Scaglione (outgoing Music Director, YMF Debut Orchestra) and Joshua Weilerstein (outgoing Dudamel Conducting Fellow, LA Phil) as Assistant Conductors
  • A reminder that Sean Newhouse, Assistant Conductor at the Boston Symphony who took over at the last minute for James Levine to conduct the Mahler 9th, had preceded Scalione as YMF Debut Orchestra Music Director.
Gustavo Dudamel:  The Sunday Times (of London) published an article called “Not a Messiah, Just a Very Musical Boy” which the abstract describes as:
Profile of Venezuelan orchestral conductor Gustavo Dudamel; examine popularity and criticisms of young conductor’s work; Dudamel’s involvement with Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra (SBSO) and Los Angeles Philharmonic; describes conductor’s upbringing and rapid rise to fame, and ponders future prospects.

I have not yet read the full article as the Times’s website requires $2 for one day’s worth of viewing; however, I was able to read some fun news via Tim Mangan when he passed along that “The Dude” will be appearing with “The Elmo” on Sesame Street this coming season.  No word yet on when the air date of that episode will be, but we will be on the look out. In anticipation, LAist.com reprinted their relevant 2008 interview with Elmo.   “Elmo and the Orchestra” was a popular CD in our house during CKDH, Jr.’s toddler years, and to this day his ability to correctly recognize and name pieces by Handel, Grieg, and Khachaturian (among others) stems directly from that listening experience.  Perhaps they’ll be a Gustavo/Elmo release on iTunes in the near future.

Grant Gershon:  The Music Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera earned some  strong (albeit brief) reviews — along with some jabs — for leading Peter Sellar’s production of Vivaldi’s “Griselda.”

  • “The conductor Grant Gershon drew elegant playing from the orchestra.”  (Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times)
  • “His stunning score, performed here in slightly modified form, is exquisitely realized by conductor Grant Gershon and a first-rate group of singers.”  (Kyle MacMillan, Denver Post)
  • “Gershon’s star continues to rise and he gave a fleet, careful turn through the score with a contemporary orchestral approach.”  (Brian, OutWestArts.com)
  • “[Gershon] conducts a musically memorable performance” (Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times)
  • “Some over-indulgent tempos in slow arias apart, conductor Grant Gershon proved a supremely stylish advocate in the pit for this score. The playing Gershon drew from the reduced chamber orchestra was a model of good Baroque and – seemingly — Vivaldi manners with crisply pointed accents, buoyant rhythms and expressive phrasing.”  (Lawrence A Johnson, theclassicalreview.com)
  • “The conductor Grant Gershon leads a stylish, expressive performance, but tends to drag in the slower arias . . . ” (George Loomis, Financial Times)
  • “Grant Gershon’s conducting was supportive of the singers; like most of them, he seemed several decades behind the times in conveying what we surmise about period style.”  (James M. Keller, Santa Fe New Mexican)

10 thoughts on “News about many conductors; a comment about a critic, a pianist, and a dress

  1. I will have a few things to say about concert dress in general, but I need to catch up on what Swed wrote. The topic is best considered outside the context of reviews, in which I personally would only comment on a singer’s appearance if the performer looked as if he or she hadn’t washed or bothered to bring an outfit in good physical condition.

    You should look at Anne Midgette’s blog posting about Swed and Wang. Midgette’s claim of sexism needs a closer look; she does not discuss the asymmetrical social expectations about how men and women are supposed to dress on formal occasions and doesn’t distinguish between how movie stars present themselves and how classical performers present themselves, not to mention the value of different presentations for those groups.


  2. Thanks for the heads up about Anne Midgette’s post (I’ve included a link in an update here). I actually agree with much of what she wrote; however, I agree with you that it isn’t sexist to comment on an outfit that is attention-grabbing for any reason. If Nathan Gunn did a recital dressed like a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars,” it be shocked if critics DIDN’T comment on it.

    I guess there are a few issues being discussed simultaneously on the various blogs:
    1) Was it appropriate for Ms. Wang to wear that dress?
    2) By extension, what exactly is appropriate attire for any performer, male or female, and are standards different between the two?
    3) How much (if at all) should a music critic say about a performers attire in any situation, but particularly if it is “non-traditional?”
    4) Even if/when it is appropriate to comment on a performer’s attire, were Mr. Swed’s specific comments worthwhile and/or appropriate?

    Addressing all of these issues is best handled by a separate post, but I’ll touch on Point #4:

    I keep re-reading his post to figure out what he’s trying to convey, and I’m at a loss as to why he used so much ink writing what he did. His point seems to be: shockingly glammy outfit, still the same pianist.

    Aside from that teeny bit of opinion, there isn’t really much insight there. The florid descriptions and metaphors come across to me like a scene in a bad romance novel — cheesy and smarmy. Add Ms. Midgette’s point that the outfit was “not inherently shocking — let alone a cause for restricting admission to those under 18. (Some of the women may be under 18 themselves.),” and at best, Mr. Swed comes across as out of touch; at worst — well, I return to my “dirty old man” comment. . . . I’m pretty sure that neither of those represent the feeling or image he was going for.

    Overall, It’s just not very good writing.


  3. Having looked at Swed, his comments about the dress are incoherent and just don’t belong in the review at all. I mean, sure, he probably enjoyed looking at her – but the interesting part is what he writes about her playing, at least for me, because that is what’s important to me.


  4. Pingback: Little red dress « The Gimlet Eye

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