Lawrence Foster at 70


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Lawrence Foster turns 70 on Sunday, which means he hasn’t conducted in his home town, our town, for the last one-tenth of his life. It also means that if you’d like to celebrate with a conductor who was a regular at Los Angeles Opera for its first 18 years, you don’t have much time to get to Prague, where the Czech Philharmonic will have a gala birthday celebration.

Foster will conduct and his soloists are stellar: violinist Sarah Chang (playing a Vivaldi season), pianists Daniel Barenboim and Radu Lupu (Schubert’s Fantasie in F Minor for four hands) and new MacArthur ‘genius’ cellist Alisa Weilerstein (Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo” Variations).


Unfortunately, you really will have to be in Prague for this one. It will not be recorded, broadcast or streamed, because Lupu, the transcendently lyrical Romanian pianist who has not made a CD in years, has developed a microphone phobia.

Speaking of Romanians, though, Foster (who was born in L.A. to Romanian parents) is going strong in Europe if not the States. The former music director of the Houston symphony has long been based in Monte Carlo, where he was music director of the city’s orchestra. Since 2002 he has been principal conductor of the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon.

Foster perhaps has become best known for championing neglected works. He’s done much to revive the work of Romania’s great 20th century composer, George Enescu, and in particular his astonishing opera, “Oedipe.”

But Foster has also in recent years brought back such forgotten operas as Louise Bertin’s “La Esmeralda.” Not only is this 1836 opera of interest for having been written by a woman, but Victor Hugo himself wrote the libretto, based on his “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Liszt thought highly enough of it to make a piano transcription and Berlioz conducted the premiere. Another Foster project has been Ernest Reyer’s late-19th century, once-popular-now-obscure French opera “Salammbo.”

Perhaps they’d be a hard sell at L.A. Opera, but Enescu’s “Oedipe” here would be a coup. The 1936 masterpiece, which has been treated in Europe as a major discovery and recorded by Foster, awaits a major professional U.S. production.


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-- Mark Swed