Post image for Music Review: MÄLKKI LEADS DVOŘÁK (LA Phil)

by William C. on March 25, 2023

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles


Conductor Susanna Mälkki returned to Disney Hall with a contrasting program of Antonin Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, Op. 46 and a U.S. premiere of an LA Phil commissioned Double Concerto by Felipe Lara written for Claire Chase, flute and esperanza spalding, bass and voice.

The Slavonic Dances is a marvelous feat of orchestration. Initially composed for a piano duo, this colorful orchestration is commonly programmed because it makes a good orchestra sound fantastic, and a great one like the LA Phil sound resplendent. Additionally, there is something that features every part of the ensemble.

Maestro Mälkki began with a jolt of energy that seemed to have surprised the entire LA Phil orchestra. Her baton began the first movement without waiting for violas to have a chance to place their chin on the instrument yet. Later, in the almost too-fast Furiant – Presto, Mälkki was true to the tempo marking and expression. In the Polka. Poco allegro, her energy softened and her luminescence bounced with along with her graceful conducting. She looked like she was casting spells, weaving lush sounds from the vast string sections accented by majestic horn sections.

I want to give a special shout-out to Sarah Jackson‘s excellent piccolo articulation — spot on and crisp — which just pairs perfectly with Maestro Mälkki’s conducting. Not to mention, Ms. Jackson’s tuning is simply superb. The viola section sang beautifully in consort as they all individually ‘danced’ with their instruments.

Susanna Mälkki

There were some minor hiccups. Notably, the violins were generally, for lack of a better word, simply not together. Their articulations often needed to be more precise, and they really needed to sharpen their ensemble awareness. In Mov. IV Sousedská, Tempo di menuetto, the opening chord was out of tune. I was shocked by the dissonance it created. But generally, the ensemble sounded beautiful. The oboe and bassoon duet in Skocná. Allegro assai was delightful, and the cello solo in Sousedská. Tempo di menuetto was gut-wrenching.

After the intermission, excitement brewed on the stage with all the additional players and instruments. Two red harps, right in front of the conductors, and two racks of assorted gongs with the percussionist. I marveled at the sight of a contrabass flute, as it is rare in concert halls.

Claire Chase

Claire Chase and esperanza spalding are two groundbreaking legends in the contemporary music scene. It is truly exceptional to have both of them share the same stage. Felipe Lara’s score demonstrated his passionate understanding of Chase’s and spalding’s performance capabilities. It challenged them to push the boundaries of their performance. The portameno expression from the strings revealed Lara’s influence from Xenakis and French spectralist expression (Spalding calls it “magic, interdimensional space music”). However, Lara finds deeply moving, colorful, expressive moments that often lack in the music he is inspired by. Under Mälkki’s exceptionally crafted and precise conducting, the orchestra fully supported the soloist with excellent articulation and expression.

esperanza spalding

While both pieces were performed excellently and showed off the prowess of our guest conductor, the program does not make any sense. The juxtaposition has little to do with each other. The programming decision focuses on being able to “have your cake and eat it too” by capturing lovers of classical music and contemporary music. This odd programming makes the experience subpar as it is entirely quizzical as to why the two were put together. Many works would have made great companions to Lara’s program. Nicole Mitchell’s Jazz flute concerto would have been a great addition, or even any great Jazz-inspired program relating to spalding’s sound. If there was a thematic choice in this pairing of Lara with Dvořák, it escaped me.

photos courtesy of LA Phil

Mälkki Leads Dvořák
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Susanna Mälkki, Guest Conductor
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave.
ends on March 25, 2023
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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