It was a stimulating, thrilling, almost bewildering evening with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Thursday at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting.
We had a world premiere. We had the introduction of another Finn in our midst. We had the orchestra positioned in a radical new way and a survey passed out for audience reaction to it. We had a program that appealed more to the head than heart. Some people left early. No one went home humming.
The premiere of Steven Stucky’s Concerto for Two Flutes opened the second half. The Philharmonic’s New Music Advisor has composed an 18-minute work remarkable for elegant writing and a serious but altogether entertaining manner.
There is something appealingly immediate about those two flutes out front, plaintively echoing each other in the first movement, “Elegy” (for Lutoslawski); chasing each other around and flirting with the orchestra in the second movement, “Games,” and splashing bright spots of color onto the somber, slow-moving canvas of the theme in “Hymn.”
The orchestra part is colorful--lots of washes and cascades--perhaps nothing startlingly new, but strongly outlined, purposeful.
Philharmonic principals Janet Ferguson and Anne Diener Giles were the impeccable soloists. Earlier, Finnish soprano Karita Mattila made her Philharmonic bow with two songs, “Arioso” and “Demanten pa marssnon,” and a symphonic poem, “Luonnotar,” by Sibelius. With the front rows of seats removed and the Philharmonic placed directly above the orchestra pit, Mattila seemed to step into the middle of the hall to sing, and she’s got a big voice.
It’s also lustrous, flexible, minutely controlled, with a powerful top end, and she uses it with dramatic flair for large and intimate expression. It was something special to hear.
In its new position, the Philharmonic took on added richness and muscle, the strings especially, though the woodwinds could occasionally seem distant. Salonen opened with an ultra-polished, poised and emphatic reading of Sibelius’ “Pohjola’s Daughter.” He closed the unorthodox program with Roy Harris’ Symphony No. 3, Salonen’s first venture here into the realm of the great American symphonies.
As such, Harris’ long-limbed but essentially non-lyrical themes, sturdy rhythms, heavy sonorities and profundity of utterance are not so far away from Sibelius, actually, and suited Salonen to a T.
* The L.A. Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting, gives the final performance of this program Sunday at noon at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., (213) 365-3500. $6-$50.