Los Angeles Music Review: BRUCKNER EIGHTH WITH BYCHKOV (LA Phil at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on November 13, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

AN EXPERIENCE NOT TO BE MISSED

On a website which attempts to list every Anton Bruckner orchestral recording offered to the public (abruckner.com), the discography collector and annotator John F. Berky states that the Austrian composer “expanded the concept of the symphonic form in ways that have never been witnessed before or since. When Anton Bruckner. Portrait by Josef Büche.listening to a Bruckner symphony, one encounters some of the most complex symphonic writing ever created. As scholars study Bruckner’s scores they continue to revel in the complexity of Bruckner’s creative logic.”

Yet most of us are not scholars, and we listen to music because it moves, touches and inspires us as little else on the planet does. So when you attend the concert of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8, presented by conductor Semyon Bychkov and the LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall this week, you may go ahead and analyze this inimitable work just like any other great classical work; you may point out harmonic and melodic motifs; you may admire the orchestrations; and you may notice phrases that are regular and irregular. But when all is said and done, none of that will explain either Bruckner’s absolute virtuosity or the emotional impact of this towering work. Free your brain, open your senses and prepare for an experience so awe-inspiring and transporting that analysis will only result in keeping you earthbound.

“Romantic” is not the word that springs to mind when I hear Bruckner’s Eighth. Certainly it is mesmerizing, but many refer to this symphony as a religious experience (he was a devout Catholic and never married). Some may find themselves hearing one giant Biblical journey, while others (myself included) sense it as a spiritual explosion, especially in the way it ebbs and flows, pulling you in and Semyon Bychkovout ever closer to another dimension. (If you think I’m being dramatic, wait until you hear it live.)

In 1926, American critic Paul Rosenfeld stated that “Bruckner’s symphonies have scarce commenced heaving their mighty volumes through time, before we know we are come into a world of deep breaths and far vistas and profound experience. Bruckner’s works are large in form as in conception.” Indeed, the Eighth, his largest symphonic creation, took three years to complete, 1884-1887, after which it was rejected by conductor Hermann Levi, whom Bruckner believed would back up his new work. Levi’s bafflement spurred Bruckner to spend years rewriting not just the Eighth but his first five numbered symphonies as well. The result: three different versions of the Eighth. Bychkov is conducting the scholarly edition based on Bruckner’s 1890 version, which lasts about 85 minutes.

Again, this needn’t be your concern. Rosenfeld goes on to say that Bruckner’s works “bring us into contact with an elemental strength. The lung capacity of the man, the vast span of his themes and thematic groups make the majority of composers seem asthmatic. Once the slow, ox-like power is gotten into motion, once the Bruckner orchestra begins squaring its great monoliths of tone, then mountainous things begin to happen. The great battering rams are slowly gotten into action. But, once heaved forward, they crash walls down.”

You have been duly prepared.

Get Your Phil - LA PHIL Logo

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Semyon Bychkov, conductor
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 8
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Friday, November 15, 2013 at 8:00
Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 8:00
Sunday, November 17, 2013 at 2:00
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit http://www.laphil.com/

{ 5 comments }

Tom Lee November 16, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Well-done! Bruckner’s Eighth is the peak of the nineteenth century symphony (not too controversial a statement). More interesting: it has been suggested that the score to The Dark Knight Rises is indebted to one of themes from the first movement. I agree. Bruckner went where no other composers of his time dared.

A pity it costs $400 to sit in the orchestra section and that the last row in the hall (at the top, head against the wall) costs $64.

Avoid the concert, and acquire the greatest recording of the Bruckner 8: Horenstein, London 1970 — and LIVE.

Tony Frankel November 16, 2013 at 5:23 pm

There is a way to find less expensive tickets, Tom. For this concert, tickets for Orchestra View (the seats behind the stage) were $18 when the show first went on sale. All you have to do is contact the box office to find out when those seats become available, because the price rises as you get closer to the concert. But I just checked Sunday’s upcoming concert: The balcony is $62 and Orchestra East (where I sat and the views are stupendous) is going for $127. The most expensive seat is Front Orchestra, which is $195. Avoiding the concert should not have to be an option.

tom lee November 18, 2013 at 6:58 am

Don’t know where you’re getting your info — I called the box office directly as the LAPhil link to Ticketmaster was down.

The seats behind the orchestra were the cheapest available — @ $62.

The death of classical music attendance is unfolding before us, but, as the WSJ editorialized recently, that perhaps is what should be happening under market forces.

Tony Frankel November 18, 2013 at 10:31 am

I call LA Phil directly (I’m not a fan of Ticketmaster) and find out when those $18 become available, because they rise to $62 before the performance (dynamic pricing is an entirely other conversation). Those who act fast and plan ahead will be richly rewarded. There are also rush tickets for seniors and students. (I can tell you that these figures I quoted were also the prices available at the Box Office the night of the performance).

tom lee November 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I called on Saturday for the Sunday matinee. I’m neither student nor senior.

Afraid that live performance is overrated in many ways — for Bruckner, certainly, the great performances of the past, happily recorded, will far excel (for example) Rattle’s performance this year of the Bruckner 9.

LAPhil/Disney — their target should be tourists and wealthy patrons — but not for serious music lovers without trust funds.

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