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At a time of economic turmoil, L.A. Phil wraps itself in Americana
There were several threads tying together Miguel Harth-Bedoya's program with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Thursday night.
All three works -- by an American, a Mexican and an Englishman -- were written in North America within a six-year span, 1939 to 1944. The American, Aaron Copland, had strong links with Silvestre Revueltas, with whom Copland worked in Mexico in the 1930s, and Benjamin Britten, who stayed with Copland at the start of his American wartime residency. All three composers stood well to the left of center in the politics of their time. And all three shared a common musical patron saint, Stravinsky.
On top of that, this was the Philharmonic's first concert on North American soil since returning from its Asian tour and the first since a historic presidential election two days before. For those of the prevailing political persuasion, Copland's apotheosis of Americana, the suite from "Appalachian Spring," may have had a special resonance Thursday -- particularly the gentle sunrise that opens the piece on a note of tranquil hope.
Harth-Bedoya took the piece quickly, with lean, linear textures. I would have preferred more warmth from the strings, but no matter; "Appalachian Spring" was in the right place at the right time.
Britten's Violin Concerto, on the other hand, introduced a note of uneasy ambiguity after Copland's affirmations -- again, very timely given the mess the nation is facing. As it turned out, this seldom-played concerto is quite well suited to violinist Midori at this stage in her career. The acerbic, scraping sonorities that did not serve her well in a performance of the Beethoven concerto two years ago in Costa Mesa were very effective in Britten -- they are practically built into the score -- and she caught the bleak, inward ambience of the outer movements and of the scherzo's long cadenza.
By sheer coincidence, perhaps, Revueltas' "La Noche de los Mayas" suite had been played by the Pasadena Symphony less than three weeks earlier, but no sonic thrill-seeker would turn down a Philharmonic reprise, especially in the sizzling Walt Disney Concert Hall acoustic.
Harth-Bedoya was as naturally attuned to this teeming caldron of big-screen angst, mariachi, lyrical passion and ritualistic percussion as Jorge Mester was last month, and he took even greater care with the dynamic contrasts, accents and jaunty rhythms of the second movement. Though the Pasadena percussion team had a slight edge over the expanded Philharmonic bunch in the finale's big jam session, the groove was there and they rocked the hall.
Ginell is a freelance writer.