Music review: A.R. Rahman and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 'Journey to India' at Hollywood Bowl
In a Hollywood Bowl weekend dominated by film scores, the Los Angeles Philharmonic turned from “West Side Story” on Friday and Saturday to a Sunday program that could have been titled “East Side Story,” music from India culminating in performances of newly arranged soundtrack excerpts composed by A.R. Rahman.
Winner of two 2009 Academy Awards (best score and song) for “Slumdog Millionaire,” Rahman is a master of epic themes embellished with artful textures and details. The Bowl selections ranged from Rahman's first film score, “Roja” (The Rose), in 1992 to the sci-fi fantasy “Endhiran” in 2010. Music for “The Rising: Ballad of Mangal Pandey” (2005) demonstrated one Rahman extreme -- maximum power and sweep --but the soulful delicacy of “Chan Chan” (from “Water,” also 2005) sounded no less impressive.
Arranger/conductor Matt Dunkley may have provided too many subdued endings, but the orchestra played sumptuously for him, and all the gracefully integrated instrumental, vocal and choral guests added to the richness of the occasion. In eight of the pieces, subtle use of the Raagapella vocalists and/or Cal State Fullerton University Singers created a glow or aura around the orchestral sound (sometimes nearly subliminal), and a playoff between Asad Khan's sitar and Rahman's piano created extra interest in the “Slumdog” suite.
Unfortunately, many of the film clips splashed across 11 screens clashed with the prevailing musical impulses, though the “Slumdog” and “Rising” excerpts, plus Rahman's music video for “Changing Seasons” (“Raavan/Raavanan,” 2010) proved happy exceptions. The delicate, atmospheric Indian flute of Naveen Kumar needed no extra visual enhancement in music from “Bombay” (1995), and received none.
Before intermission, this KCRW-FM (89.9) “Journey to India” offered short sets by four ensembles. Rhythms of Rajasthan combined traditions from a vibrant folk culture. Percussionist Karsh Kale fused electronic rock and jazz with sensual vocals and exciting instrumental textures -- including the electric violin of Lili Haydn.
Finally, celebratory pop dance from India came courtesy of the exuberant Sher Foundation (on the narrow Bowl pasarelle) and Yogen Bhagat's glittering Bollywood Step Dance (on the stage itself). The audience of 15,545 proved more intent on screaming approval than applauding.
-- Lewis Segal
Top: A.R. Rahman, right, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and, from left, Amrita Sen, Sachin Premasuthan and Vivek Agrawal. Below: Bollywood Step Dance. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho /Los Angeles Times