Category: Disney Concert Hall

Music review: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler's Seventh and Ninth

February 3, 2012 |  2:15 pm

Gustavo Dudamel

In the final and most demanding week of his Mahler Project, Gustavo Dudamel has been pushing a conductor’s physical, mental and Mahler endurance about as far as it can go. There have been single days in which he has rehearsed two different symphonies and performed a third. He has been, all the while, shuttling between two radically different orchestras -– the feisty Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela and the refined Los Angeles Philharmonic --  as well as shuttling between Walt Disney Concert Hall and the twice-as-big Shrine Auditorium.

Tuesday night with the Bolívars at Disney, Dudamel conducted an 80-minute Seventh, which is the least performed and most elusive of Mahler’s nine completed symphonies. On Thursday, Dudamel led the first of three performances of a lyrically transcendental 90-minute Ninth with the L.A. Phil. In extraordinary performances -– conducted, as usual, from memory -- Dudamel reached new and Mahlerian heights. If he was exhausted, he didn’t show it.

He is, of course, exhausted. During a break between rehearsals Wednesday, Dudamel, struggling to remain coherent, delivered a few groggy remarks to an audience of 400 educators at an L.A. Phil symposium on Venezuela’s El Sistema music education program. The conductor also, after all, is engaged in a full-time engineering challenge of putting together the spiritually ecstatic Eighth with a cast of a thousand at the Shrine Saturday night.

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Frank Gehry sketches out 'Don Giovanni' for L.A. Phil

January 31, 2012 |  9:00 am

DonGiovanni Gehry
The ideas that Frank Gehry sketches out on paper have a way of turning into big, ambitious projects. Deborah Borda, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, keeps one such drawing on her office wall, of a cluster of enigmatic shapes at odd angles. That was an early rendering of Gehry's plan for what became his landmark Walt Disney Concert Hall.

It's hard to know exactly what to make of a sketch Gehry has made for the Phil's upcoming production of Mozart's opera "Don Giovanni" in May (pictured). What is known is that Mariusz Kwiecien will play the hell-bound anti-hero, and Rodarte sibling designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy will style the costumes for the production, which Gehry will design.

In an unusual mash-up of classical music and architecture, the production will be the first of a planned trilogy of operas that Mozart composed with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. Gehry will select the other two architects who will design productions of "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Cosi fan tutte" in subsequent seasons.

We're still awaiting word on what Gehry's sketch represents. Meanwhile, anybody want to hazard a guess, or maybe a Rorschach analysis?

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Architecture review: Frank Gehry's New World Center in Miami Beach

-- Reed Johnson

Photo credit: Sketch courtesy of Frank O. Gehry

Music review: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler's Fifth and Sixth

January 29, 2012 |  3:19 pm

Gustavo Dudamel and Martin Chalifour
In the summer of 1901, Mahler celebrated his 41st birthday and began his Fifth Symphony. For all that was new about his first four symphonies, they were nonetheless song-filled, poetically and spiritually inspired products of 19th century German Romanticism. Although Mahler’s moods were many, dark tunnels still promised light at the end. With the Fifth, and more so with the agitated Sixth, Mahler took the hard-edged, modernist plunge into a future and fate unknowable.

On Thursday, the day Gustavo Dudamel celebrated his 31st birthday, his Mahler Project turned the troubling 20th century corner in an imaginative performance of the Fifth Symphony with the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela in Walt Disney Concert Hall. The next night, Dudamel led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a driving, riveting Sixth.

When Dudamel recorded the Fifth five years ago, he took a score with which many conductors have trouble finding a trajectory, pretty much on its contradictory, if exciting, face value. Now his confidence has grown to ask unanswerable questions.

A possible way to read this symphony is as the farewell to one age and a wary but game readiness for the next. In five movements and three parts, it begins with a funeral march, introduced by solo trumpet dirge, the battle lost, the battlefield a plain of sorrow. The slow Adagietto, famous as memorial music, was not originally meant to be played snail-slow but as a robust song of love. That leads to a cheerful, contrapuntal rondo, its role in the drama unclear.

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Music review: Vivica Genaux and Europa Galante at Disney Hall

January 26, 2012 | 12:57 pm


Europa Galante 6_Cr
Squeezed in between Mahler symphony cycle dates, Walt Disney Concert Hall’s Baroque Variations series soldiered on Wednesday night with a return visit by violinist Fabio Biondi’s period-performance ensemble Europa Galante. For someone attending all these events, the rasping, delicate sounds of period instruments in Vivaldi seemed like a bracing, perhaps slightly acidic splash of cold water in between the massively scaled mood swings of Mahler.     

Nevertheless, there was another form of firepower on the Disney stage Wednesday -– the Fairbanks, Alaska-born mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, who is the focal point of Europa Galante’s current six-city U.S. tour. 

It was a platform for Genaux to show off her rare and astounding ability to wind her way through some of Vivaldi’s hair-raising obstacle courses of notes at lightning-speed tempos (plus encores by Giacomelli and Brioschi).  All of the Vivaldi arias are featured on her appropriately-named CD, “Pyrotechnics,” with Europa Galante -– and none are what could be considered standard fare.

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Music review: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler's Third

January 25, 2012 |  1:38 pm

Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra
Why Mahler?

That’s the question in the title of British critic, commentator and classical music gadfly Norman Lebrecht’s feistily engaging new book that considers Mahler not just as a composer but a cultural force relevant to our multicultural age. Lebrecht is this week’s Mahler scholar for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Mahler Project. In his packed Upbeat Live talk Tuesday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, he described Mahler as the first composer to use the symphony as a medium for social protest.

Gustavo Dudamel followed that talk with Mahler’s sprawling Symphony No. 3. The orchestra was the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, which is sharing the Mahler Project with the L.A. Phil. The brawny Bolívars were, as they had been two nights earlier in an overpowering Mahler Second, a sonic force to be reckoned with. Their ensemble was, this time though, a bit messier. The Mahler Project -- which began on Jan. 13 but will be really heating up this week and next with six of the nine symphonies -- is going to have its ups and downs. 

But the Bolívars also happen to be a noted social and cultural force to be reckoned with. An impossibly large orchestra of some 175 young Venezuelan players, many of whom came from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, grappling with the demands of the longest symphony in the standard repertory (Dudamel’s timing was 102 minutes) is its own kind of social and cultural statement.

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Music review: Dudamel's Bolivars perform Mahler's 'Resurrection'

January 23, 2012 |  4:09 pm

Gustavo Dudamel and Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra
Gustav Mahler always said his time would come. It has. A hundred years after his death, Mahler is standard repertory.

But might even mighty Mahler have dared conjure up a vision of his Second Symphony supersized by the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra? This was Sunday’s ardent installment in Gustavo Dudamel's Mahler Project at Walt Disney Concert Hall. It marked the arrival of the massive and massively impressive Venezuela ensemble, which Dudamel has headed since 1999 and which will be in residence for two weeks, sharing the Mahler Project with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The Bolivars -- who tour and record widely and are the pride and joy of their country’s famed and extensive El Sistema music education program -- are known for their exuberance and their numbers. The orchestra has changed since it first came to Disney in 2007. Or rather it has not changed quite so much as it might have. It is no longer the Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra, which limited its players to age 28.

Now the best are staying on and the ensemble, big as it is -- Sunday it was some 175 strong -- has been growing into a phenomenally tight ensemble. There were no small fries this time, only highly accomplished young musicians who appeared to be in their 20s and 30s.

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Music review: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler's First and Tenth

January 20, 2012 |  2:10 pm

Gustavo Dudamel Mahler 1
Gustavo Dudamel and Mahler’s First Symphony have a long relationship.

Thursday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, in what may have been Dudamel’s most stirring and satisfying performance here thus far, it was clear that relationship has reached full maturity. The performance also provided excellent evidence of just how much Dudamel has refashioned the sound of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the little more than two years since he became its music director.

Dudamel did, after all, conduct Mahler’s First in the fall of 2009 to conclude his debut Disney Hall gala. The huge event attracted international attention, was televised and released on DVD. The excitement of the occasion and the exuberant performance were contagious.

Back then the orchestra, however, was on edge –- not accustomed to the media attention. And Dudamel, who had been conducting the Mahler First since he was 16, was not willing to sacrifice vitality for overly careful ensemble playing. The symphony didn’t entirely hang together. Dudamel cared more about the moment than momentum. The next spring he got beat up for that by several American critics when he took the score on his first national tour with the L.A. Phil.

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Music review: Steve Reich's 75th birthday concert at Disney Hall

January 18, 2012 |  1:58 pm

David Cossin and Steve Reich
Tuesday night, for its Green Umbrella Concert, the Los Angeles Philharmonic invited the Bang on a Can All Stars to pay tribute to Steve Reich. The line for last-minute tickets at Walt Disney Concert Hall was already long two hours before the concert.

The enthusiastic, engrossed audience included all types -– rockers, new music fans and the traditional symphony crowd. One of those in jeans and a polo shirt was Gustavo Dudamel, who dashed out of a Mahler choral rehearsal just in time to hear Reich’s classic “Music for 18 Musicians,” after intermission. A retrospective of Reich, performed by musicians who live and breath his music, made attendance at this  kind of event one of music's memorable experiences.

Twenty-five years ago Reich was an important composer but still viewed as a pioneering Minimalist, distinct from the musical mainstream. And 25 years ago, Bang on a Can was a new collective of composers fresh out of Yale. So impudently anti-institutional was the first Bang on a Can marathon in New York that the guest of a critic (this critic) was told he had to buy his own ticket because he worked for a music publisher.

Now both Reich and Bang on a Can are major forces in the musical world. Reich, who turned 75 in October, is admired by classical musicians for the near Bachian structural integrity and singularity of his work. He is also as close to a rock star as a composer can get these days. Progressive pop musicians remix him. Advertising rips him off. The establishment awards him: He possesses both a Pulitzer Prize and an honorary doctorate from Juilliard.

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Music review: The L.A. Phil Mahler Project begins

January 14, 2012 |  4:09 pm

Thomas Hampson and Gustavo Dudamell
This has been corrected. See note below.

The Mahler Project, begun Friday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, is big.

Los Angeles Philharmonic officials have calculated that by the time Gustavo Dudamel finishes performing the nine complete symphonies, the Adagio of the Tenth and “Songs of a Wayfarer” with the L.A. Phil and Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, he will have conducted, most likely from memory, more than 70 hours of Mahler in rehearsal and concert in less than a month. With a mere day’s break to fly to Venezuela, Dudamel then reboots the whole shebang in Caracas.

The physical and mental challenges are plenty grueling, but the psychic ones may prove greater still. Mahler’s are the symphonies of life’s major moments, and no conductor has ever packed so many of them into so compact a period. An intemperate project perhaps, but Dudamel has eased his way into it by prudently pacing himself.

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Music review: Thibaudet and Harth-Bedoya with the L.A. Phil

January 6, 2012 |  1:21 pm

Miguel Harth-Bedoya at the L.A. Phil
This review has been corrected as noted below.

Don’t bother to Google “sonic cushion.” Commerce, not poetry, regulates our daily searching, so what you’ll get are gizmos, pillows, quilts and the like. A true sonic cushion is not stuff but air -- billowy low vibrations offering sublime support and comfort.

An ideal example of just that could be found Thursday night during a magnificent Los Angeles Philharmonic performance of Saint-Saëns’ Third Symphony, conducted by Miguel Harth-Bedoya, at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The work is known as the “Organ” Symphony, but the organ enters only after a pleasantly agitated first movement peters out. The basses quietly pluck a low G, which the organ raises  by a half-step with a deep resonance that is hard to place in space or time. It forecasts a change of state and realm.

Something mysterious has entered the room with the rumble. Above that organ cushion, Saint-Saëns musters a mystical hymnal melody in the strings as fine and alluring as anything the popular French composer wrote. Maybe the fact that the L.A. Phil principal keyboard, Joanne Pearce Martin, is a skydiver helped her create the impressive cushion of organ sound, a kind of cloud of floating sonorities that gave the impression substance. Maybe it was just the great physicality of the Disney organ.

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