Los Angeles Philharmonic / Music News & Info: Classical

My $0.02 on the LA Phil’s 2016-17 Walt Disney Concert Hall season and 2016 Hollywood Bowl season

overview-head-1617Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Philharmonic made public their plans for the upcoming 2016-17 season at Walt Disney Concert Hall (details available HERE).  This comes on the heels of last week’s announcement of the 2016 summer season at the Hollywood Bowl (HERE are details of that).

In summary:  it’s a damn good-looking season.  The WDCH season in particular is pretty freakin’ spectacular.  Definitely worth a solid “A,” maybe even an “A+” if one doesn’t get too picky about guest conductors or the concentration of world premieres on the Green Umbrella docket.  Dare I say that this is the best season Gustavo Dudamel has programmed since he’s taken over the orchestra.  Here’s the short version as to why:

  • Interesting mix of repertoire, featuring the requisite balance of new works vs. warhorses.  You want world premieres?  The LA Phil is playing 14 of them between the regular subscription season and the Green Umbrella new music series.  You want old masters?  Lots of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mendelssohn, Mozart, and Haydn for you too.  The rest of the season is punctuated by some wonderful choices that haven’t been played by the LA Phil in a long time, if at all.  Two cases in point:
    • Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles and Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass on the same program with Yuja Wang playing the Bartok Piano Concerto no. 1  to boot!!!  Mr. Dudamel conducts this very Salonen-style program.
    • The U.S. premiere of an awesome sounding LA Phil co-commission:  George Haas’s Concerto Grosso for Alphorn (or “Alpinehorn” if you prefer) and Orchestra featuring the Hornroh Modern Alphorn Quartet.  Seriously:  Alphorn.  Four of them.  In Disney Hall.  It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
  • The return of guest conductors who’ve been missing for a few seasons, most notably former Music Director Zubin Mehta.
  • A solid roster of guest artists appearing with the orchestra (e.g. Yuja Wang doing all three Bartok Piano Concerti) and/or in recital (e.g. Martha Argerich and Stephen Kovacevich appearing together)
  • Interesting programming initiatives aplenty.  None of the ho-hum Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, or Brahms festivals this year.

Let’s be honest, if this were any other orchestra, I’d give it an A+++, but we’re kinda spoiled here in LA.

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After perusing the details of both seasons, here are  the things I thought were worth highlighting and/or commenting upon:

Conductors

  • Music & Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel leads 13 weeks of subscription concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall, plus the season opening gala.  He also takes the orchestra on a rare late-October/early-November tour to Costa Mesa, San Francisco, Davis, and Seattle, with Mahler 9 being performed in all cities and a second concert in San Francisco featuring Andrew Norman’s complete Play and the Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony.  He also leads three weeks at the Hollywood Bowl, with this summer’s opera being Tosca (yes, another Tosca . . . scoff scoff) featuring Juliana Di Giacomo in the title role, Fabio Sartori as  Cavaradossi, and Falk Struckmann playing the evil Scarpia.
  • Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen appears at WDCH for only two weeks (as opposed to the three-week stints with which he’s been gracing us lately), both in April 2017.  The first week is all Sibelius (Symphonies 6 & 7, Six Humoresques, and Finlandia).   The second week involves three non-subscription concerts offered as part of the broader “Reykjavík Festival” being presented by the LA Phil.
  • Zubin Mehta makes his long-awaited return to the LA Phil podium January 13-15 conducting Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben and the West Coast premiere of Ravi Shankar’s Sitar Concerto No. 2, Raga mala, with Anoushka Shankar as the featured soloist.  (If you want a preview, you can get a used copy of the CD of the Shankar concerto featuring the same principals for only $1.12 on Amazon).
  • Current and former LA Phil Assistant/Associate Conductors making appearances:
    • Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, current Assistant Conductor, soon-to-be promoted to Associate Conductor in June, and more notably, soon-to-be Principal Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in September:   a Beethoven & Ravel night at the Bowl, plus three concerts at WDCH featuring the aforementioned Haas Alphorn Concerto Grosso squeezed between Mozart and Haydn.
    • Grant Gershon, Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Resident Conductor of Los Angeles Opera:   two performances El Niño, John Adams’ Messiah-inspired oratorio on the Nativity.
    • Lionel Bringuier, Chief Conductor and Music Director of the Tonhalle Orchestra in Zurich:   three concerts at WDCH doing the Mussorgsky/Ravel Night on Bald Mountain, Prokofiev 2nd Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham, and Stravinsky’s Petrushka.
    • Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Music Director of the Fort Worth Symphony:   one September evening at the Hollywood Bowl of R. Strauss, J. Strauss, Jr., and selections of pieces by Kreisler for violin and orchestra with Martin Chalifour, the LA Phil’s Principal Concertmaster.
    • Joana Carneiro, Music Director of the Berkeley Symphony and Principal Conductor of the Orquesta Sinfonica Portuguesa:  one night at the Bowl to conduct Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the Korngold Violin Concerto with Mr. Shaham as soloist.
  • Other notable returning guest conductors whom I’m looking forward to seeing with the LA Phil at Disney Hall (roughly in declining order of interest):  David Robertson, Stéphane Denève, Jaap van Zweden (recently announced as the next Music Director of the New York Philharmonic), James Gaffigan, Krzysztof Urbański, Bernard Labadie, and  Christoph Eschenbach.
  • Notable returning guest conductors about whose return I am completely indifferent but whose concert I will attend with an open mind anyway:  Pablo Heras-Casado.
  • Simon Rattle makes a very welcome Walt Disney Concert Hall appearance (yea!!).  Unfortunately, it is with the Berlin Philharmonic instead of the LA Phil (grumble grumble).  Still, when they show up to play Éclat by Boulez and the Mahler 7th Symphony, you can’t be too disappointed, right?   I’ll take it and say, “Thank you very much.”
  • In what has unfortunately become the norm, no other conductors besides Messrs. Dudamel & Salonen conduct two or more subscription concert weeks.  Coming closest:
    • David Newman conducts two weekends at the Bowl, the first in July featuring music from Star Trek, and the second in September where he shares the podium with John Williams.  He also makes two subscription concert appearances at WDCH, conducting the LA Phil in Bernstein’s score for On the Waterfront on November 18 and Steiner’s score for Casablanca on November 20th, both of which will be performed while their respective films are shown.
    • John Adams, the orchestra’s Creative Chair, and Thomas Adès each conduct one week of subscription concerts plus one Green Umbrella concert.
    • Bramwell Tovey, the LA Phil’s former Principal Guest Conductor at the Hollywood Bowl, conducts five concerts at the Bowl between Thursday, August 26, and Thursday, September 1, then gets a week in WDCH leading a program of Walton, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky.
  • The season is awash in conductor/composers.  Besides Messrs. Salonen, Adams, and Adès, Daniel Bjarnason and Matthias Pintscher pick up the baton.
  • Philippe Jordan (Music Director of the Opéra national de Paris) and Santtu-Matias Rouvali (Chief Conductor of the Tampere Philharmonic and former Dudamel Conducting Fellow) make their subscription concert debuts with the LA Phil during the WDCH season.
  • Ludovic Morlot, Andrew Manze, Nicholas McGegan, and a few others appear during the summer at the Bowl, but won’t be at Disney Hall.
  • Other frequent/occasional guest conductors notably absent from this year (roughly in declining order of disappointment):  Charles Dutoit, Susanna Mälkki, Michael Tilson Thomas, James Conlon, Emmanuelle Haïm, Leonard Slatkin, Daniel Harding, Semyon Bychkov.
  • Guest conductors who haven’t been in LA in a long time that I’d love to see, but whose continued absence does not shock me:  Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Muti, Vladimir Jurowski, André Previn, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Kent Nagano.

Soloists

  • Instrumentalists appearing with the orchestra:
    • The usual suspects:  pianists Yefim Bronfman, Emanuel Ax, Yuja Wang, Jean-Yves Thibaudet,  Hélène Grimaud; violinists Lisa Batiashvilli, Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, Christian Tetzlff; cellists Johannes Moser.
    • Nice to have them back: pianists Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Daniil Trifonov, Stephen Kovacevich; violinists Ray Chen, Augustin Hadelich; cellist Steven Isserlis.
    • Some notable names make recital appearances but do not perform with the orchestra:  pianists Martha Argerich, Lang Lang, Garrick Ohlsson; violinists Hillary Hahn, Itzhak Perlman; Yo-Yo Ma (cello); Edgar Meyer (string bass); Renee Fleming (soprano); Ian Bostridge (tenor).
  • Unlike previous seasons where multiple members of the LA Phil have been given solo turns, no one besides Mr. Chalifour gets to be at the front of the stage in either WDCH or Hollywood Bowl seasons.
  • There are some excellent vocal soloists appearing with the orchestra, including:  mezzo-sopranos Michelle DeYoung, Elīna Garanča, Christianna Stotijn; baritones Matthias Goerne, Simon Keenlyside, and more.
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Elīna Garanča

Programs and programming initiatives

  • Overall, it’s the longest season I can remember, beginning with the season opening gala in late September and ending with a mid-June Green Umbrella concert.
  • The upcoming WDCH season currently features fourteen world premieres, five U.S. premieres, and five West Coast premieres.  Almost all of them appear as part of the Green Umbrella series and not as part of the regular subscription.  In fact:
    • Only one of the world premieres (a new work by James Matheson conducted by James Gaffigan), one US premiere (the aforementioned Alphorn concerto grosso), and four West Coast premieres appear on the regular subscription season.  That’s somewhat disappointing.
    • Gustavo Dudamel conducts exactly zero world or US premieres.  None.  Nada.  Zip.  Goose egg. . . .That’s even more disappointing.  The only West Coast premiere he conducts is towards Osiris, a relatively small Pintscher work.
    • Mitigating this disappointment are the fairly numerous novel and/or rarely performed works on Mr. Dudamel’s concerts, including works by Stravinsky (Requiem Canticles, Symphonies of Wind Instruments), Janáček (Glagolitic Mass, Sinfonietta), Schoenberg (Accompaniment to a Film Scene, Piano Concerto featuring Emanuel Ax), Adams (Absolute Jest), Norman (Play), Prokofiev (Scythian Suite), Schnittke ((K)ein Sommernachtstraum).
  • Composers shockingly and disappointingly missing from LA Phil programs in the 2016-17 season: um, well, nobody jumps out, I’m happy to say.  Like I said, it’s a pretty spectacular season . . . perhaps Gershwin, Copland, Barber, Bruckner, Elgar, Grieg, Salonen, Verdi, any number of women . . . someone help me out.
  • Yuval Sharon begins his three-year partnership with the LA Phil with three projects:  Nights and Dreams: A Schubert & Beckett Recital with Mr. Bostridge; two Green Umbrella presentations and the unveiling of a new installation by Rand Steiger during a day of new music across the campus, and a staging of Lou Harrison’s opera Young Caesar.
  • If you’re a fan of vocal/choral music like me, it’s a good year:
    • In addition to the previously mentioned El Niño, Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles, Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, and Young Caesar, the orchestra offers complete performances of Nixon in China by Adams (conducted by the composer), The Creation by Haydn (conducted by Mr. Dudamel), and Handel’s Messiah (conducted by Mr. Labadie and featuring his singers of La Chapelle de Quebec)
    • Mr. Adès’s concerts feature his  Totentanz during his subscription week and the world premiere of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground by Gerald Barry as part of the Green Umbrella series.
    • Mr. Dudamel leads a sequence of concerts pairing Schubert symphonies with Mahler song cycles:  Ms. DeYoung sings Songs of a Wayfarer for two nights, Mr. Goerne sings Kindertotenlieder for three nights, and Ms. Garanča sings RückertLieder for two performances and songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn for two other performances.
    • Mr. Jordan leads an evening of Wagner excerpts featuring Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin.  This is exactly how I prefer my Wagner — in short snippets instead of 5 hour chunks.

If you want a more quantitative analysis of the WDCH season, Brian Lauritzen crunches the numbers HERE.

It’ll be a good ride.  I’m looking forward to it.

—————-

Photo credits:

  • Gustavo Dudamel:  courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association
  • Hornroh Modern Alphorn Quartet and Elīna Garanča:  photos courtesy of the respective artist’s website
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