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Despite Midori’s heroics, Heras-Casado disappointing in LA Phil concert of music by Kodaly, Eötvös, and Bartok

Heras-Casado and EotvosRecently, whenever there has been an opening for a music directorship at an orchestra, Pablo Heras-Casado usually gets included in the list of candidates to be considered. The 30-something Spanish maestro has many admirers and proponents, and he gets his fair share of positive press.  The New York Philharmonic just announced that he’ll be making his debut with that esteemed orchestra in the coming 2013/14 season.

Frankly, I don’t really understand what the fuss is all about.

This past Sunday marked the third time I’ve seen him conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic over the past few years. Taken together, those concerts have had him conducting a fairly broad swath of the repertoire:  Mendelssohn, Mahler, Stravinsky, Debussy, Takemitsu, and now, Kodaly, Eötvös, and Bartok.  My collective take away is that he is a competent conductor, but with thoroughly middle-of-the-road interpretations at best.  Mind you, that isn’t a bad thing in and of itself; however, I’d hope that if a conductor were to go down that route, he (or she) would be able to get this orchestra to sound as good as it can — and I’ve never experienced that when Mr. Heras-Casado is on the podium at Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Take Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra.  This is whiz-bang sort of work that, by design, should easily make an orchestra shine.  The LA Phil certainly performs the piece fairly often in addition to having recorded it under three of its Music Directors (four, if you count the DVD release of the video from the 1970’s with Zubin Mehta conducting).   Whenever they perform it, I expect either a nuanced performance or a rousing one — if/when we were lucky, perhaps both.

Sadly, Mr. Heras-Casado’s version this past Sunday offered neither.

At best, it was reasonable and polite; at worst, as in the fifth movement, it was tame, even dull.  Moreover, I’ve heard other conductors get more from the orchestra.  Mind you, the LA Phil still sounded very good; these days, they perform quite consistently regardless of who happens to be standing in front of them waving his arms.   Ariana Ghez (oboe), Shawn Mouser (bassoon), and Tom Hooten (trumpet) had some particularly tasty moments. However, this orchestra can — and usually does — sound much better.  Overall, it was underwhelming.

Midori (by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)The rest of the audience seemed to agree with me; the ovation given at the end of the concert was solid but quite reserved for the easily excitable Walt Disney Concert Hall crowd, and they barely brought Mr. Heras-Casado back for a third round of bows, with many leaving after the first round. This is the same audience whose applause repeatedly interrupted a perfectly fine rendition of Kodaly’s decidedly less bombastic Háry János Suite.  The inter-movement applause may have been a little distracting, but it was well deserved: the Háry János Suite was easily the most enjoyable  work of the day.

In between those two works was DoReMi, a new violin concerto written by Peter Eötvös for Midori (aka Midori Goto if one were to look her up in the USC Thornton School of Music faculty directory).  You couldn’t have wanted more from the superstar violinist.  She did every crazy thing that the composer asked her to do with remarkable precision and, where the composer allowed, musicality.  This was as persuasive an account as this new work was going to get for its world premiere weekend.

Unfortunately, Midori’s heroics were not enough to make me want to hear this work again.  There were interesting things going on here and there, but it just didn’t coalesce into anything more substantial or noteworthy.  Coming off of the previous Saturday’s Jacaranda concert which featured more compelling examples of Mr. Eötvös’s ouvre, this was disappointing.

Random other thoughts:

  • Given that Mr. Eötvös has been in town for this mini-festival of his music this past week, I was surprised that he was not at WDCH on Sunday.  I realize that the official world premiere of DoReMi happened on Friday, but usually, a composer sticks around the whole weekend.   Go figure.
  • Brian Holt, veteran So Cal music blogger and publisher of Out West Arts, had been on hiatus since early October, but now he’s back.  Among his first two concerts he reviewed after hs return were (a) the Saturday edition of the same program I discuss above (HERE), and (b) the LA Phil Green Umbrella concert from earlier in the week featuring Mr. Heras-Casado conducting Mr. Eötvös’s Angels in America (HERE).  Welcome back, dude.


Los Angeles Philharmonic:  January 20, 2013; Walt Disney Concert Hall
Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor
Midori, violin

Kodaly: Háry János Suite
Eötvös: DoReMi, a Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (world premiere, LA Phil commission)
Bartok:  Concerto for Orchestra


Photo credits:

  • Pablo Heras-Casado and Peter Eötvös:  via Mr. Heras-Casado’s Twitter account
  • Midori:  Timothy Greenfield-Sanders

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