In the cavernous Hollywood Bowl, where 5,000 is a small crowd, applause can come at you like a wave on a beach. It takes nerve to conduct here, and it’s the rare conductor who can find ways to make the experience feel intimate.
But Chilean conductor Paolo Bortolameolli, making his Bowl debut leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Thursday night, kept his cool, delivering works by Saint-Saens and Dvorak while also dexterously navigating the audience’s unfettered impulse for applauding between movements and sometimes kicking wine bottles down the stairs.
The L.A. Phil’s assistant conductor through the 2018-19 season, Bortolameolli told the audience that two of the works in the first half were “young man’s pieces.” He added that Dvorak’s Overture to “Vanda,” a lively, overstuffed curio that acted as the curtain-raiser, and Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 1, were getting their first performances from the L.A. Phil.
Bortolameolli’s conducting style, by turns warmly expressive and, when called for, dramatic, seemed calibrated to handle another potential pitfall of making music outdoors: The Bowl’s big video screens magnify every facial expression and gesture.
The conductor gave Martin Chalifour, the principal concertmaster, plenty of room for his trademark sweet-toned poise in Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto No. 1. In the following “Havanaise,” Bortolameolli went for perhaps too much languorous French sensuality. The reading seemed on the careful side. But he held the score’s lyrical line, remaining attentive to his soloist, and gave a tasteful, rather than passionately full-blooded account.
Chalifour has a smallish tone, but on this night the Bowl’s amplification system sounded natural and well-balanced, giving him a welcome boost.
After intermission, the night’s subdued, mellow feel continued with a technically secure but low-voltage reading of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 in D minor. The symphony, one of the composer’s most admired, has become an L.A. Phil staple. In May, the orchestra performed it at Walt Disney Concert Hall under conductor Semyon Bychkov.
Bortolameolli’s account was affectionate and intelligently shaped. He moved things along, catching some interpretive character and occasional sonorous peaks and valleys. A more emotional, fiery approach will have to wait. That said, there was never any troubling slackening of tension. Potentially dense, Brahmsian textures remained clear. But the rendition could have conjured more atmosphere and thrust in the first movement Allegro and lilt in the Scherzo.
Bortolameolli, who is also a pianist (he won first prize in a national Chopin competition in Chile), will soon demonstrate his versatility. In January he’s conducting a Green Umbrella new music concert, “The Edge of Jazz,” curated by Herbie Hancock at Disney Hall.
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