Symphony orchestras operate on many models. Corporate is increasingly common. Some are collectives; others resemble sports teams. There are monkish ones on spiritual missions and academic ones with a musicological bent.
Maybe it’s a California thing, but our big orchestras like to think of themselves as families and credit their uncommon successes to building long-term relationships. Carl St.Clair is in his 26th season as music director of the Pacific Symphony in Costa Mesa. Michael Tilson Thomas’ 20 years with the San Francisco Symphony was preceded by 20 years of annual guest conducting.
Salonen is conducting at the Paris Opera, but “Karawane” remained all in the family. Lionel Bringuier, who had been an assistant conductor under Salonen, was on the podium at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Grant Gershon, music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the evening’s chorus, is also a former Salonen assistant conductor.
The evening’s soloist in a Mozart piano concerto was Yuja Wang, yet another member of the L.A. Phil family. She has particularly close working relationships with Bringuier (they’ve just released a luscious new recording of Ravel’s two piano concertos) and L.A. Phil music director Gustavo Dudamel (they recently recorded Messiaen’s “Turangalîla” Symphony in Venezuela).
The approach by Wang and Bringuier to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 9, called the “Jeunehomme” after the supposedly lovely French pianist for whom the 21-year-old composer wrote it, was big-boned. The orchestra was on the large side, and so was Yang’s playing. She is, of course, known for her high style. Her fashion statement this time was a sexy long gown, glittery on top and sheer on the bottom, so mermaid-like that she had trouble walking in it.
For instance, the slow movement, an exquisitely touching aria for piano, is often treated as either wistful or classically exquisite. Yang revealed something truer, the excess of depth typical of a young genius like Mozart who has not yet the perspective or experience go along with the deep feelings. In an otherwise flashy Finale, Mozart drops a serious minuet, which Wang allowed to remain in the alluringly ambiguous region between seduction and irony.
For an encore, however, Wang let spectacularly loose with an ostentatiously droll version of Mozart’s “Turkish March” by the Russian pianist Arcadi Volodos with added goofy bits by the Turkish pianist Fazil Say.
Mozartean Dada made a good transition to “Karawane.” Bringuier commissioned the score for the opening concert a year ago of his first season as music director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, a concert that also featured Wang as soloist. Since then, “Karawane” has been making its rounds in performances conducted both by Bringuier and Salonen.
But Friday the work felt as if it had come home. No only do the L.A. Phil and Master Chorale have the Salonen style in their blood, the Disney Hall acoustic appears to have imprinted itself on the Salonen concept of sound. “Karawane” opens with an effect the composer particularly loves — the otherworldly vibrations of droning, low winds (including the tall contrabass clarinet and contrabass bassoon), which have a special presence in Disney.
Los Angeles Times photographers document the year in arts and culture.(Los Angeles Times)
When the Mariinsky Ballet performed “Cinderella” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Oct. 8, even the wondrous Diana Vishneva as Cinderella couldn’t bring unity to the movement, but she danced with flawless, fearless authority. Read more >>(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins leaves a rehearsal of his play “Appropriate,” opening Oct. 4 at the Mark Taper Forum, to eat first with a reporter, then later with his agent and some unspecified Hollywood people, who presumably hope to lure him away from the field and city where he has experienced meteoric success in the last five years. Read more >>(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Kerstin Anderson takes charge of Maria von Trapp with a spirit so joyful, a physicality so lithe and coltish, and a soprano so flawlessly soaring that only Frau Schraeder, Capt. Von Trapp’s jilted fiancée (Teri Hansen), could possibly resist her charm. Read the Oct. 1 review >>(Los Angeles Times)
Soprano Abigail Fischer performs Oct. 7 in the opera “Songs from the Uproar” at REDCAT in Los Angeles.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Moisés Kaufman’s muscular revival of “Bent,” which played at the Mark Taper Forum, opening on July 26, renders what many had written off as a parochial drama about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany into a gripping tale of love, courage and identity. Read review >>(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Malaviki Sarukkai performing at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica on July 19, 2015. Sarukkai is the best-known exponent of South Indian classical dance.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Bramwell Tovey conducts the L.A. Phil with pianist Garrick Ohlsson in Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Hollywood Bowl on July 14, 2015.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
Argentine dancer Herman Cornejo performs in the West Coast premiere of “Tango y Yo” as part of the Latin portion of BalletNow.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Jake Shears plays Greta in Martin Sherman’s play “Bent” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles through Aug. 23, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Dancers rehearse a one-night-only performance choregraphed by Raiford Rogers, one of L.A.'s most-noted choreographers. This year the dance will be to a new original score by Czech composer Zbynek Mateju.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Oscar-winning actor Ben Kingsley in Los Angeles on July 9, 2015.(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Mia Sinclair Jenness, left, Mabel Tyler and Gabby Gutierrez alternate playing the title role in the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” at the Ahmanson Theatre. The three are shown during a day at Santa Monica Pier on June 16, 2015.(Christina House / For The Times)
American Contemporary Ballet Company members Zsolt Banki and Cleo Magill perform a dance routine originally done by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This performance was presented as part of "Music + Dance: L.A.” on Friday, June 19, 2015.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Miguel, a Grammy-winning guitarist, producer, singer and lyricist, is photographed in San Pedro on Wednesday, June 10, 2015. His new album "Wildheart,” explores L.A.'s “weird mix of hope and desperation.”(Christina House / For The Times)
Los Angeles-born artist Mark Bradford is photographed in front of “The Next Hot Line.” This piece is part of his show “Scorched Earth,” installed at the Hammer Museum in Westwood, June 11, 2015.(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles Opera concluded its season with “The Marriage of Figaro,” with Roberto Tagliavini as Figaro and Pretty Yende as Susanna, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.(Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)
“Trinket,” a monumental installation by Newark-born, Chicago-based artist William Pope.L, features an American flag that is 16 feet tall and 45 feet long. The work is on display at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA through June 28.(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Alex Knox, from left, Carolyn Ratteray, Lynn Milgrim and Paige Lindsey White in “Pygmalion” in spring 2015 at the Pasadena Playhouse.(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)
On March 17, Google celebrated the addition of more than 5,000 images to its Google Street Art project with a launch party at the Container Yard in downtown Los Angeles.(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)
Ric Salinas, left, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya, of the three-man Latino theater group Culture Clash, brought their “Chavez Ravine: An L.A. Revival” to the Kirk Douglas Theatre to mark the group’s 30th anniversary. The play ran from Feb. 4 through March 1.(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
The inspiration was the Dadaist movement that began in Zurich, Switzerland, a century ago, and the nonsense text by Hugo Ball caused a kind of stream-of-consciousness parade of circus-like images in Salonen’s imagination. The first word of Ball’s poem, “jolifanto,” made him think of a parade of elephants and jubilation.
In two parts lasting around 26 minutes, “Karawane” covers surreal and real ground. There is wild, primordial stomping, Stravinsky on steroids. Twice, the chorus breaks into Balinese monkey chants. There is a moody impressionist landscape, for which Bringuier set the stage by opening the concert with a succulently rich performance of Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” And there is Salonen cutting loose with a rock drum set and a chorus that doesn’t so much sing as catapult Ball’s text.
Exciting as the Zurich premiere was, Bringuier now makes “Karawane” richer, lusher, livelier and all the more unhesitatingly in-your-face. He couldn’t exactly push his new Swiss audience too far on his first day on the job.
Memo to the New York Philharmonic, which was a commissioner of “Karawane” and will perform it later in the season under Alan Gilbert: This is difficult music. If you are really courting Salonen to be your next music director, as some believe you may be and the New York critics particularly want, do not skimp on rehearsal time. Gilbert’s New York Philharmonic performance of Salonen’s “LA Variations” at the beginning of the season was not well reviewed and was said to have sounded not well rehearsed.
Bringuier’s sensational “Karawane” performance at Disney was, according to an L.A. Phil spokesman, allotted a full five hours of preparation. It really does make a difference when new music is treated as a family affair.