Los Angeles Music Preview: SALONEN & BRONFMAN, MAHLER & BEETHOVEN (LA Phil at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on January 27, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles


A pair of mind-blowing works meets a stunning pair of artists when the Los Angeles Philharmonic plays a full weekend beginning Friday night, January 29, 2016. LA Phil Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen returns to Disney Hall to lead Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto, with soloist Yefim Bronfman, and Mahler’s First Symphony.


Beethoven’s first piano concerto is actually not his first piano concerto. This piece got numbered as Beethoven’s first piano concerto because it was published first. Which wasn’t unusual. A perusal of Beethoven’s early works reveals a number of pieces crafted to make a big impression. Of all of these youthful “calling card” pieces, perhaps the Piano Concerto in C major is the most audacious. Although we know it as his Concerto no. 1, it was his third essay in the genre- an early concerto in D major, written when he was only 13, never made it into the canon. This was followed by the work we now know as the Concerto no. 2 in B flat in 1790, and then, about five years later, this Concerto in C major. Even in the context of Beethoven’s entire output, it is a bold and massive work. Depending on which cadenza the soloist chooses, it is possibly on an even grander scale than the Emperor Concerto. Beethoven chose to make his Piano Concerto no. 1 a bold statement with good reason: In the 1790s, he was far better known as a pianist than as a composer.

Which holds true for the great Yefim Bronfman, who, coincidentally I last saw playing Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at Disney Hall. I noted then that the Israeli pianist appears as someone who should be hauling the piano, not playing it. But his bulky appearance and fingers the size of small sausages belied the clarity which emerged from that beloved concerto. He also does amazing work with Salonen on the recording of the conductor’s own piano concerto, and again with Salonen performing Béla Bartók’s three piano concertos with the LA Phil.


But truly, it’s the 55-minute Mahler which must be seen live. It is for many one of the most extraordinary works in the repertoire, although it took time for it to be widely thought of as one of the most original and popular symphonies ever written. Mahler did most of the work on the score in 1888, but revised it several times. He composed it in hopes of being understood. The work was successful in Prague (1898) and later in Amsterdam, but the 1900 Viennese audience, musically reactionary and anti-Semitic as well, trounced the work.

Frankly, the work puzzled its own composer. He was unsure whether he was offering a symphonic poem, a program symphony, or just a symphony. But for the most of you who are not scholars, does it matter how it is labeled? It’s like trying to make sense of Bruckner’s majestic symphonies (indeed, Mahler acknowledged indebtedness to Bruckner for the First’s scherzo). From funeral music that makes ominous use of “Frère Jacques” to a finale that Mahler likened to a bolt of lightening that rips from a black cloud, this symphony is one of the greatest concert-going experiences you can have.

photos courtesy of LA Phil

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Yefim Bronfman, piano
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S Grand Ave.
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major, Op. 15
MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D major
Friday January 29, 2016 at 8
Saturday, January 30, 2016 at 8
Sunday, January 31, 2016 at 2
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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