Bruckner is, in America, an acquired taste. But acquire it for the late 19th century Austrian worshipfully epic symphonies, and you’re hooked.
Los Angeles has long been a good place to get the Bruckner habit. Otto Klemperer, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the 1930s, was one of the great Bruckner conductors. The early German and Austrian émigré composers who created the sound of Hollywood films in the '30s were brought up on Bruckner. Schoenberg taught Bruckner at USC and UCLA to a next generation of L.A. composers.
Zubin Mehta, a life-long Brucknerian, sought a Viennese Bruckner sound for the L.A. Phil and bought instruments to help create it. Carlo Maria Giulini investigated Bruckner from the spiritual angle; Esa-Pekka Salonen, from the progressive one. Gustavo Dudamel is now carrying on the Bruckner tradition.
This weekend brings Bruckner’s Eighth to the L.A. Phil, the most majestic symphony of this most majestic composer. Semyon Bychkov, who excels in grand works, conducts. Recent broadcasts on the BBC from London of Bychkov’s performances of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” and Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” have show him in thrilling form.
If you can’t abide Bruckner, beware, that’s all that’s being served. But a great Bruckner Eighth can feel like it’s rewiring your nervous system. It’s something you don’t forget.