Anyone concerned about the dwindling audience for classical music might have taken heart seeing the teeming masses who swarmed into the Hollywood Bowl on Friday night--which had an official head count of 15,019. Of course, there were special enticements involved, musical and otherwise. The occasion was the annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular at the Bowl, a program repeated on Saturday and Sunday.
We knew this would be no average affair, observing a stage flanked by cannons. By the time a genuinely dazzling fireworks display lit up the sky at the finale of the 1812 Overture, to the tune of a valedictory theme bolstered by the USC Marching Band’s brassy blare, subtlety was cast into the gentle wind of a balmy evening.
And who, by that point, needed subtlety? Fortunately, a reasonable amount of subtlety came to pass through much of the program leading up to the bombast.
As conductor John Mauceri quipped over the microphone, Tchaikovsky “is the only composer who gets his own weekend at the Bowl every year.” It’s no fluke. Tchaikovsky’s high ranking as a Populist composer is ensured by the purposeful manner of his work.
This music--as heard via the greatest-hits sampler program at the Bowl--speaks in big, brash terms, with emotions spelled out in capital letters. The Russian’s music is melodic to a fault, fueled by a sense of tangible drama and narrative drive, qualities which Mauceri underscored handily with his bold, lucid direction.
The throng was well-stocked with that species of applaud-between-movements concert-goers. Luckily, only one piece on the program had pauses between movements to be intruded upon, that being the ever-popular Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor.
Pianist Mona Golabek, the Los Angeles-bred wonder, arrived in a fetching evening gown and brought requisite clarity and gusto to the work, pounding out octaves with life-affirming (or life-threatening) intensity. For the Andante, she boasted a feathery touch and waxed ethereal, competing for volume with a louder-than-usual chorus of crickets.
For the remainder of the program, Mauceri led the troops through excerpts from “Swan Lake,” “Sleeping Beauty,” a rapturous reading of the symphonic poem “Romeo and Juliet,” and even a bonbon encore from “The Nutcracker.” Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, this is your life.
Although it has been subjected to special effects adornments and programming overkill that threaten to turn it into orchestral kitsch, the 1812 Overture remains a powerful example of program music, when played with the controlled abandon heard here. And with the right production budget, the finale is a unique thing to behold, with its Charles Ives-ish polytonal collision and beautiful madness.
At the Bowl, it was a raucous, definitively spectacular ending to an unfailingly tuneful, action-packed program.