It wasn’t supposed to be an all-Mozart program. What was originally announced as a Tchaikovsky/Sibelius program morphed a couple of times over the course of this season before landing on its final form. One of the subscribers wasn’t happy about all the repeated changes and made her opinion known during the “Casual Friday” post-concert Q&A. With a sense of annoyance and exasperation, she asked, “Doesn’t anyone know what’s going on?”
It was an uncomfortable moment. Luckily, among the panelists on stage taking questions was the person best equipped to provide an answer: Gustavo Dudamel. With his good natured style, he made no effort to soft-pedal his response and instead took the question head on. He explained that the Sibelius 5th Symphony means a great deal to him (he conducted it in his first concert with one of his other orchestras, the Gothenburg Symphony); however, it made more sense to surround the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s performance of Mozart/DaPonte operas with Mozart Serenades. Next year, it’ll be The Marriage of Figaro and the Haffner Serenade (though in the currently published version of the LA Phil’s 2012/13 season, it doesn’t show up). For this year, they settled on pairing Don Giovanni with the Posthorn Serenade.
His style in responding to that question perfectly reflected the style with which he approached the two Mozart works on the program: good natured but head on.
The Posthorn Serenade was the “big” work on the program, and Mr. Dudamel treated the seven-movement piece with the same full-blooded attention he typically gives to a Mozart symphony. Movements with any kind of weight were festooned with added drama, while lighter movements were taken with a purposeful leisure. It sounded beautiful, but felt as if Dudamel were taking things a tad too seriously. It was a bit of overkill, the way a fashionista would wear a designer’s $200 white t-shirt to the beach when an $18 variety from a surf shop would be more authentic and appropriate.
Of course the designer t-shirt still looks good, and similarly for Dudamel, his approach to the Serenade could still be enjoyed, most especially for the opportunities it gave some of the LA Phil’s players to shine. Principal Flute David Buck and Associate Principal Oboe Marion Kuszyk had a number of lovely turns, while Sarah Jackson (piccolo) and Jim Wilt (posthorn) played their relatively brief but prominent solos with elan.
Mr. Wilt in particular not only had the privilege/challenge of playing the solo after which the Serenade got its name, he did so on the genuine article — a valveless coiled cousin of the modern French Horn — instead of something more common like a cornet or a flugelhorn. It’d be interesting to know if it were Mr. Wilt’s idea, Mr. Dudamel’s, or some combination thereof.
Opening the concert was Exsultate, Jubilate, Mozart’s motet for soprano and orchestra. It is work that is easy to like, especially with a good soloist and a supportive accompaniment. Fortunately, there were both in ample measure. Kiera Duffy was the very good soloist. As if she hadn’t demonstrated enough stylistic range by singing some Mahler and Berio earlier in the season, here she was singing one of the best known and most loved Mozart works in the genre. Singing with sheet music, she seemed a little tight at first, but loosened up nicely after the Andante’s recitative. By the time she sung the “Alleluia,” her voice had gained full bloom, with her bright tone and razor-sharp coloratura technique ideally suited to the music. Dudamel led his forces with a bit more restraint than he later showed in the Serenade, a necessary move given that Ms. Duffy’s voice isn’t the biggest.
Random other thoughts:
- The after concert Q&A, typical of “Casual Friday” concerts, featured Mr. Dudamel, Ms. Duffy, and Bing Wang (Associate Concertmaster). Besides the aforementioned question about programming, there were only four others ranging from serious discussions about the relative merits and disappearing use of solfège in current musical pedagogy, to lighter topics like Mr. Dudamel’s hair and memorization skills. I would have thought that more time would have been allotted, but it wasn’t.
- After the Q&A, audience members were able to mix and mingle with many of the LA Phil musicians in the lobby bar of Walt Disney Concert Hall. From the brief time I spent observing, the musicians were very gracious answering the questions of the patrons.
Los Angeles Philharmonic: May 25, 2012; Walt Disney Concert Hall
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Kiera Duffy, soprano
Mozart: Exsultate, Jubilate, K. 165
Mozart: Serenade No. 9 in D major, K. 320, Posthorn
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: from the painting by Johann Nepomuk Della Croce, Salzburg Mozarteum
- Kiera Duffy: Steve Laxton