After Friday night’s Los Angeles Philharmonic concert, I had separate communications with two distinguished gentlemen about where that particular performance of Symphonie fantastique ranked among all of the others they had experienced. Interestingly enough, I realized I couldn’t name a single favorite – no individual performance of the Berlioz standard stood out in my mind, and trust me, I’ve heard many.
I can say the same thing for many other so-called warhorses – the Beethoven 5th Symphony, for example. I’ve seen/heard countless performances of that work, and while I’ve enjoyed all of them to varying degrees, there isn’t one particular performance that made me think, “Wow. That was amazing. Best of I’ve ever heard. Gonna be hard to ever top that one.”
For whatever reason, I have more strong memories of performances of less-often heard works or premieres: being at the world premiere of LA Variations and watching an LA audience that many considered conservative go absolutely bonkers; watching the late great Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson at Walt Disney Concert Hall singing Neruda Songs as tears streamed down her face; the first time I heard Esa-Pekka Salonen conduct Le Sacre du Printemps in WDCH . . . (and on and on) . . .
Is it because we hear certain pieces so often that it becomes hard for an orchestra and/or conductor to make them distinctive? Perhaps.
Of course, I’m not completely without warhorse favorites. The best Beethoven’s 9th I ever saw was a performance by the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl in the late 90’s conducted by Simon Rattle. I just remembered it being filled with excitement, nuance and little bits of surprise – which, considering the fact that it happened at the less-than-ideal acoustic of the Bowl, made it a bit more remarkable.
So, dear reader, what is your favorite performance of a warhorse, any warhorse? A concert you experienced, or maybe even a concert you performed in . . . maybe you have more than one. I invite you to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Just to kick things off, here are a small smattering of mine:
- Mussorgsky, Pictures at an Exhibition: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Valery Gergiev, 2004
- Vivaldi, The Four Seasons: Gil Shaham (violin), St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Hugh Wolff, 1996
- Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker (Act II), Leningrad Philharmonic (it was still called that at the time), Yuri Temirkanov, 1990
- The aforementioned Beethoven’s 9th with Sir Simon and the LA Phil, 1997
- A night of gods and witches: Dudamel and the LA Phil open the 2011/2012 season with Adams, Benzecry, and Berlioz
Photo credit: http://kevdieenglesman.wordpress.com
my favorite orchestral performances span 50 years, so i will cogitate and list them as they come to mind. meanwhile, i gotta look for a reed!!!!
Somehow, I’m not surprised that its a bit harder for you than most since you’ve probably been a part of more truly great performances than most people have been to performances of any kind. Glad to have you here nonetheless, Ms. Zukovsky!
I have my favorite performances of every war horse, but all those were from conductors who are long gone.
Charles Munch wins the award for the best Fantastique
but if you ask me my all fave performances I remember them as if they were yesterday, to be honest.
never found that reed!!!!
also, I have my favorite recordings of all the beet. symphonies, brahms, you name it. I have it in my head. fave soloists….everything is in my computer like mind.
oh—could you find my car keys??????????
The mysterious, weird alchemy between conductor and orchestra never ceases to surprise me and never more so than watching Gergiev from Orchestra View behind the orchestra, shaking his sawed off pencil and glaring with an intensity only he seems to possess. A most memorable performance of anything, anywhere.
But wait….Early 1970’s. Chicago Symphony in San Diego play Mahler 5th and Mozart Jupiter. For whatever reason, they didn’t include Los Angeles on their tour but it was worth the trip. The first time to hear a world class orchestra in my young concert going career and it made a deep and lasting impression.
Giulini/LA Phil and their first performance of La Mer.
Salonen/LA Phil and Nielsen 5th. The snare drum was unleashed with a terrible ferocity. Was a certain clarinettist involved in this performance? Whoever it was, it was memorable.
I think I was at that same CSO concert – VERY memorable Mahler 5, and a solid Mozart 41 too. Not sure if that was my absolutely favorite Mahler 5, but I can say for certain that Solti/CSO performed my favorite Mahler 5. Also a take no prisoners Mendelssohn 3rd – everything else since just sounds too polite.
The Mendelssohn violin concerto in my head will forever be one performed by Perlman with the LA Phil. Sadly, I don’t remember the conductor, but perhaps that’s a sign . . .
Giulini/LA Phil – Beethoven 3rd. Thank goodness there was a subsequent recording.
Bernstein/LA Phil – Rhapsody in Blue. I forgive him for skipping the part in the orchestrated version that doesn’t appear in the piano solo version.
Colin Davis/LSO -Sibelius 2nd during a very memorable trip to London. Is that a warhorse? Not sure if it is performed often enough to count.
Wow, a musician commented here.
Yes. Quite nice, isn’t it?