Music review: Yuja Wang and Lionel Bringuier at Hollywood Bowl


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This review has been corrected. See note at the bottom.

Sporting a stylish new beard and an impressive new title as Los Angeles Philharmonic resident conductor, Lionel Bringuier conducted an unusually incandescent performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night. The orchestra played with vibrancy. Bringuier will repeat the Tchaikovsky with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood Sunday afternoon. He’s 24. He’s clearly arrived.


But it was Yuja Wang’s orange dress for which Tuesday night is likely to remembered. The Chinese pianist, who opened the concert with Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto, is also 24 and already a star. Her most recent recital CD is called “Transformation.” On the back, she is quoted as saying that her album “reflects the endless transformations in life and music.”

Endless transformations, indeed. Her latest life transformation is in the direction of startling glamour. Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult. Had her heels been any higher, walking, to say nothing of her sensitive pedaling, would have been unfeasible. The infernal helicopters that brazenly buzz the Bowl seemed, on this night, like long-necked paparazzi wanting a good look.

Yes, she’s beautiful. Yes, that’s some makeover. And, yes, she’s still the same tasteful, technically impeccable, confident and extraordinary pianist she was when she first appeared, somewhat more modestly, with the L.A. Philharmonic in 2009.

Even so, had this Hollywood Bowl performance been a scene in a Hollywood movie, I would have thought it hopelessly unrealistic. But there Wang was, projected in leering close-up on the Bowl’s video screens playing a superhuman concerto with unabashed cool. Actually, Hollywood’s idea of Rach 3 was the film “Shine,” which presented the concerto as the mountainous challenge that drove a mentally unstable pianist over the edge. Believe that, and the only explanation for Wang is that she must be some sort of cocky classical music cyborg.

Nothing, for her, looked even vaguely difficult. She was at her best in the most punishing passages. Rhythm is one of her strong suits, so the last movement, in particular, rocked.

She was on the slow side for Rachmaninoff’s slow, lyrical melodies and on the fast side for the showy passages, but nothing was extreme. When Rachmaninoff called for delicacy, speed and grace together, she had all three in exactly the right proportions and was downright magical.


So far, she has been most impressive when working with strong conductors such as Charles Dutoit (with whom she played an exciting Prokofiev’s Second Concerto in L.A.), Michael Tilson Thomas (with whom she played an exacting Bartók Second Concerto with the San Francisco Symphony in June) and with Claudio Abbado (with whom she has a fine new Rachmaninoff recording). Bringuier on Tuesday was, instead, a gentlemanly accompanist, graciously accommodating her star turn.

On his own, Bringuier brought a special freshness and sense of excitement to Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. This is a melancholic, agitated score by a Russian depressive. The conductor, on the other hand, is a sunny Frenchman from Nice who always looks to be having contagious fun with the baton.

His attitude toward the Fifth was to give it a large dose of antidepressants. Here a fateful symphony was shown to have suppressed dappled colors and even a flowing life. The poignant slow movement became sweet, not sad, when Eric Overholt played the famous horn solo with a honeyed tone. The third movement waltz was for dancing and romance. The Finale had a wonderful skipping, running, rushing character.

Tchaikovsky’s Fifth will be back soon. During the same week in October, Gustavo Dudamel will conduct it with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Walt Disney Concert Hall and Valery Gergiev will lead it with his Mariinsky Orchestra from St. Petersburg in Orange County. You can be certain both will be properly darker and emotionally roiling.

But Bringuier’s Tchaikovsky was for a warm summer evening, an evening that belonged to attractive young musicians with promising lives ahead of them and that little orange dress. I wish the supposedly suicidal Tchaikovsky could have been there. Maybe it would have made him feel he had more to live for.


L.A. Philharmonic names Lionel Bringuier as resident conductor


Lionel Bringuier finishes for an injured Gustavo Dudamel at the L.A. Philharmonic

Review: Yuja Wang, the next Chinese sensation

-- Mark Swed

[Updated Aug. 3, 2:35 p.m.: Eric Overholt was the principal horn player in the Tchaikovsky. An earlier version of this review had the wrong name.]