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
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