Los Angeles Music Review: LA PHILHARMONIC: DUDAMEL & BRONFMAN (Walt Disney Concert Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on October 4, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


The Walt Disney Concert Hall celebrates its 10th anniversary this week, but the program last night was more of a celebration of The Los Angeles Philharmonic. Do Angelinos truly understand that one of the finest orchestras in the world is in their own backyard? Even with Gustavo Dudamel at the helm, an exciting world premiere, a popular selection, world-class pianist Yefim Bronfman, and the exciting percussionist Pedro Carneiro at the opening, it is LA Phil the organization and the sterling musicians therein that floor me as much as the architecture of their arena.

LA PHIL Disney Hall 10th Logo

It began with Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 (1816). I have wondered that there isn’t a huge range of interpretive possibilities when conducting Schubert’s fourth, which is scored for a classical-sized orchestra, but Dudamel proved me wrong. For musicologists, this is a fascinating work from a young man (Schubert was 19 when he wrote the four-movement work) who was clearly influenced by Mozart and Beethoven, but in the midst of a volcanic output during which he was forming his own revolutionary achievements. For example, there are themes aplenty, but to the untrained ear it may be difficult to pick them out, even though they are repeated.

Yet Dudamel, sans score and aided by the hall’s first-rate acoustics, not only brought these themes to the fore, but made them crucial and immediate. Check out the particularly vigorous viola section, sawing away as if to prove that Schubert was up to something ground-breaking, and you’ll see what I mean. The woodwinds—oboist Ariana Ghez, flutist Julien Beaudiment and clarinetist Michele Zukovsky in particular—also heightened the hidden treasures buried within the piece that you would normally miss. I especially enjoyed the jocular and Ponchielli-like minuet during the allegro—a startling and welcome innovation from the young composer.

I suspect the reason that the Symphony is rarely performed is the lack of those memorable melodies so common to the Romantic Era. And while the composer himself titled the piece “Tragic,” the only thing “tragic” about the symphony is that it didn’t get a premiere until 1849, the 21st anniversary of its composer’s death.

gustavo dudamel

Peter Lieberson had nearly completed his percussion-rich composition, Shing Kham (2011), when he died from complications of lymphoma. The orchestrations were completed by Oliver Knussen (with the assistance of Dejan Badnjar) and the world premiere performance started with a bang: Insistent strings, a commanding timpani and powerful chimes give way to mystical woodwinds, and we were thrust into what can best be described as a soundtrack (and this is a good thing). The array of unexpected twists and turns in the 10-minute work had me visualizing a jungle adventure film in which the hero rides the perilous rapids of Asia on a rickety boat. To call Shing Kham invigorating is an understatement, especially given the dexterity of Carneiro’s marimba playing. Reminiscent at times of Bernstein’s jazzy meeting of percussion and trumpet, Lieberson is on a joyride, some moments stealthy and sneaky, others explosive and supernatural. While it does feel like a piece which could have been expanded, it is a fitting tribute to Lieberson’s extraordinary ability with orchestrations. And Dudamel! I loved how at one point he curled his fingers as if dipping them into a bowl of electricity and then hurled a bolt towards his players.

yefim bronfman

So what do you think happens when you combine LA Phil with one of the most popular scores in the repertory— Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1—and Bronfman? Magic. At first, Bronfman appears as someone who would be hauling the piano, not playing it. But his bulky appearance and fingers the size of small sausages belied the clarity which emerged from this beloved and melodious concerto. Consider that there are fortissimo 10-fingered chords, double octaves in contrary motion, and sixty-fourth note runs for both hands. I was so taken with his expertise that I found myself leaning forward (as were other spectators around me). I would have liked a bit more tenderness in some of the lyrical passages, but it’s a performance that made me want to slam back a few vodkas in celebration.

But then Bronfman offered an enchanting surprise. The roaring crowd would simply not let him leave the stage, and—after pummeling the Tchaikovsky into the stratosphere—he offered as an encore that was delicate, sweet and lyrical. I’m almost certain it was a selection from Leopold Godowsky’s 53 Studies on Chopin’s Études, but I’m awaiting confirmation on that.

Fortunately, this concert runs through Sunday, so you would be wise to see why one viewer behind me said, “I wish the New York Philharmonic was made up of the LA Philharmonic.”

Walt Disney Concert Hall Poster

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Pedro Carneiro, percussion
Yefim Bronfman, piano
Walt Disney Concert Hall
LIEBERSON (realized by KNUSSEN): Shing Kham (world premiere)
SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D.417, Tragic
TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23
scheduled to end on October 6, 2013
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit http://www.laphil.com/

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gabriel Romero October 5, 2013 at 2:27 am

“At first, Bronfman appears as someone who would be hauling the piano, not playing it.” Hahaha! Wicked review amigo.
It is indeed a blessing to have the opportunity to listen live to such great musicians all round.


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