Beamed to a screen, Dudamel, L.A. Phil and actors do Tchaikovsky and Shakespeare [Updated]
The Los Angeles Philharmonic suffered a couple of "oops" moments Sunday afternoon during its second step into the new world of simulcasting performances from Walt Disney Concert Hall to audiences in movie theaters all over the United States and Canada.
But not to worry too much — the glitches in this installment in the L.A. Phil Live series didn't occur until after Gustavo Dudamel had finished conducting the orchestra in three Tchaikovsky pieces inspired by works of William Shakespeare, each prefaced by a dramatic vignette. Matthew Rhys soliloquized before the opening "Hamlet," Orlando Bloom and Anika Noni Rose waxed tragically romantic before the concluding "Romeo and Juliet," and Malcolm McDowell did triple duty as Hamlet Sr.'s ghost, Prospero in "The Tempest" and the Prince in "R&J."
The first rough spot came as Kate Burton, the backstage host for simulcast viewers, interviewed Dudamel moments after he'd finished his bows. The sound nearly went out on Dudamel's answers several questions into the session. The good news was that the audience in front of screen No. 11 at the Century 20 in Huntington Beach had been clearly enjoying the engaging maestro's answers and let out a collective gasp — "aaoohh!" — at the moment it seemed they'd be deprived of more. But luckily the rest was not silence, as the sound improved from whispery to thin.
Then came the coming attractions — a quick pre-recorded reel promoting the third and last round of the series, a June 5 matinee of Dudamel conducting Brahms' Fourth Symphony and his double concerto for violin and cello. Somebody apparently punched a wrong button after the video had begun, and Burton came on wearing an expression of pucker-faced surprise that drew laughs at the cinema — and that she'll either pay to have destroyed or send to all her friends, depending on her sense of humor.
[For the record at 6:40 a.m., March 14: An earlier version of this post misidentified Kate Burton as Deborah Borda, the philharmonic's president.]
"I've never done this, and it was good," said Kathy, a country music fan. One of her co-workers at a Huntington Beach engineering firm, a Phil subscriber, had suggested they check it out. At $20 a ticket, she said, "this was an affordable way to get introduced to it."
Also pleased were Bonnie Gibson and John Oddo of Costa Mesa, veteran classical music aficionados who'd caught the Pacific Symphony's Philip Glass program Thursday, then listened to it again on the radio. In January, they said, the theater wasn't full when L.A. Phil Live had debuted with a program capped by Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. On Sunday, the couple hadn't planned to sit in Row 3, "but it was packed when we got here," Gibson said.
This, they said, was a way to enjoy the beauty of Disney Hall at about a third the ticket price and minus the time, expense and aggravation of the commute (the cheapest tickets for the June 5 Phil concert were $61.50, but none are left at that price).
Gibson and Oddo said they were impressed at the precision video work, which cut with flawless timing from 20-foot-tall close-ups of the ever-emotive, physically pulsating Dudamel to views of whichever section or individual player was commanding the musical moment.
"Hamlet" and "Romeo and Juliet" gave key solos to principal oboist Ariana Ghez, and at the end she got her own round of applause from the mall crowd when the camera alighted on her. Seeing Dudamel's sorrowfully transported countenance as Ghez soloed plaintively during "Hamlet" had been a peak moment of the simulcast — as was the kid-on-a-rollercoaster look of excitement the conductor wore while summoning and riding the orchestra's momentum during a long surge of "The Tempest."
"The close-ups were all perfectly crafted, and the wide spans were great," Oddo said. "The sound could be better. To match [concert hall sonics] in a theater is a tall thing. If they could work on it, it would be nice." Indeed, what was heard in Huntington Beach was standard-issue mall-cinema sound, clear but lacking the nuance, dimension and presence of a concert hall.
Some elsewhere tweeted notes on the simulcast:
@jolewitz "extremely moving performance."
@LizHebert (Houston) "Gustavo Dudamel is such an incredible musician! Thanks to my oboe prof's husband for taking the studio."
@barbe3 (Louisville) "Fanastico!"
@aponcol (Montreal) "Very nice! Bravo Gustavo!"
But what Culture Monster wants to know is what the man in the front row behind the stage was writing or reading on his device Sunday while Orlando Bloom was playing Romeo directly in front of him.
— Mike Boehm
Photos: Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Shakespeare-inspired Tchaikovsky piece Thursday in the same program whose Sunday matinee was simulcast to movie theaters; Orlando Bloom plays Romeo during the Disney Hall concert. Credits: Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles Times.