Entertainment & Arts

Review: Violinist Jennifer Koh gave a modern edge to ‘Mozart Under The Stars’ with Bramwell Tovey and LA Phil

LOS ANGELES, CA -- TUESDAY, AUGUST 28, 2018-- Bramwell Tovey conducts the “Carmina Burana” performa
Bramwell Tovey conducting a different program on Aug. 28.
(Maria Alejandra Cardona / Los Angeles Times)

When September arrives at the Hollywood Bowl, the weather either gets beastlier than it was earlier in the summer or it suddenly turns cooler as the days grow shorter. Tuesday night, it was the latter. Spectators donned coats and some of the musicians onstage were more bundled up than usual. A loud sneeze from deep in the box seats resounded, heard even from the conductor’s podium by conductor Bramwell Tovey, who promptly extended a gracious “Bless you!” in mid-lecture.

Fall is on the horizon at last.

It was all-Mozart night at the Bowl, a more-or-less annual gathering for which many members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic get the night off, and those who remain explore a few selections from 19th century Austrian musicologist Ludwig von Köchel’s vast catalog of compositions by the Salzburg genius.

In the recent past, 18th century specialist Nicholas McGegan had been entrusted with conducting most of the all-Mozart concerts here, but this time Tovey took it on. In general, Tovey favors a thicker, more symphonic Mozart sound than the fleet-paced effervescence that McGegan produced outdoors, but never to the point where it became bogged down in any way. Always willing to share information amid his endearing stream of irrepressible quips, the conductor offered some helpful musical analysis for what he called “the four or five of you” who might have been interested in that sort of thing.


There was a wisp of a standard work as an appetizer, the Overture to the opera “The Abduction From The Seraglio,” with an outboard percussion section happily whacking away at the noisy “Turkish” punctuation marks.

From there, Tovey and violinist Jennifer Koh went deeper into the Köchel file with the Violin Concerto No. 1. We hear the later Mozart violin concertos a lot in concert — especially No. 5 — but No. 1 is usually relegated to complete recorded surveys. Koh’s forte these days is in contemporary music — her greatest moment may have been her performance in Philip Glass’ “Einstein on the Beach” — and she brought a modern, edgy and sometimes aggressive tone quality to Mozart that was a bit much at times. She provided her own cadenzas for all three movements, each more suspenseful and intriguing than the one before it.

Next was a souvenir from the 11-year-old Mozart, the Symphony No. 6, which had its repetitious or simplistic passages but, hey, what were any of us doing at that age? The romping hunting finale was the best part of the score, and Tovey and the Phil gave it a good ride. Another relatively underexposed piece, the three-movement Symphony No. 31 (“Paris”), closed the evening, with Tovey presiding over some robust playing that found a balance between weight and mobility.

As usual in all-Mozart concerts here, the offering was brief — just under an hour of music — and although the Phil does not post attendance figures anymore, the Bowl looked about half-filled.


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