October 2017 – The Month in Music

Greetings gentle readers.  I know it has been some time since I have set down my thoughts, but the muse has not been upon me this past month due to a heavy workload and other sundry concerns in my meek existence.  I have still managed to soldier on downtown most weekends however to take in the offerings from the Phil and the LA Opera as their seasons open up.  Rather than go into my usual depth of detail on each concert, I am opting this go round to just summarize the highlights of each one that the short passage of time has afforded me.

First up was the opening concert for the indoor season for me of the LA Phil.  It was an all Mozart affair, with the first half being his delightful Clarinet Concerto, and the remainder excerpts from The Magic Flute.  The soloist for the concerto was Martin Frost, who brought a gorgeous tone, and a beautiful long expressive legato line to each phrase, especially in the adagio.  He also brought a rather expressive physical motion as he played, reminiscent of a willow tree in a strong gale.  It was distracting, but not enough to make me forget the gorgeous sounds he coaxed from the old licorice stick.

Speaking of gyrations on stage, the Phil’s own resident gyrator, Carrie Dennis, has apparently been invited to take her talents elsewhere.  Apparently in the last indoor concert in June she missed a performance without giving anyone a heads up, and this was a straw to far for the Phil.  This is all detailed in this wonderful post by C. K Dexter Haven on his blog All Is Yar.   In addition, Principal Oboe Ariana Ghez departed to raise her young family, and the Phil is already offering the position to a hot talent from Spain who currently is principal oboe in Munich.

The best news in his post was that trumpeter Thomas Hooten is staying put, having not even applied for the vacant principal position in Chicago.  He said that he prefers what the Phil is doing here, and how the brass section is working out.  One hopes that means that Horn Andrew Bain feels the same way.

Back to the concert.  After intermission we heard an hour’s worth of excerpts from the Magic Flute.  The singers were a bunch of younger artists who are populating the smaller roles in John Adams new opera up in San Francisco.  They were all delightful, but with smallish young voices that are still growing.  This opera benefits from a young cast with its fairy tale-ish story.  The one exception was Jessica Pratt as the Queen of the Night.  She is the current go to for this role back at the Met, and she certainly showed why.  Displaying a dazzling coloratura command and a voice with a surprising amount of vocal heft she was easily the highlight of the evening.

The next night found me across the street for LA Opera’s production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers.  The gorgeous production was created by the English National Opera, and is almost reason enough to see this rarity.  It was a very pleasant night, but it really is just a 2 hit opera, that otherwise mostly rambles through an over contrived exotic locale plot.  The big hit is the famous duet for the tenor and baritone, and Javier Camarena and Alfredo Daza seemed well matched in it.  Neither has a voice with much heft, but they were similar types of singers and that melody just sweeps one away.  It was light years away from Bjoerling and Merrill, but then everything is.  Mr. Camarena also sang his tender aria very beautifully, floating some very nice high pianissimos at the end.  Of the Leila, Ms. Machaidze, a month later I have almost no recollection, as her part is mostly unmemorable for being one of the big stars.   it was a pleasant evening, but one can see why this opera is sort of a footnote.

Next up was Nabucco the next weekend at the Opera.  This was a very pleasant surprise. The voices were all very impressive, including the annual visit from Baritone Placido Domingo, the production was engaging, and the orchestra under James Conlon was taut and spectacular.  On top of this, in this Chorus heavy early Verdi opera, the LA Opera Chorus was out of this world.  Both renditions of Va Pensiero (the second was during the curtain calls that were actually still part of the drama of the production) gave chills.

Of the principal singers, tenor Mario Chang falls into that dreaded category of young tenors with a ringing top note, and then a voice that sounds like it is 2 blocks away lower than that.  Bass Morris Robinson has added a lot of vocal heft since I last heard him and he is everything you want in a bass now.  Stentorian, with a rock solid bottom to the voice.  Impressive.  The biggest discovery to these ears was Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska.  What a magnificent voice she has.  In true Russian/Ukrainian fashion it is a tad wild, but with that kind of power and  dramatic delivery who cares?  I fervently hope they bring her back for more Verdi soprano roles.  She is spectacular.  All in all, this was one of the better nights at the opera I have had in the last couple of years.

The last 2 concerts in this report found me back over in Disney for two concerts led by the Phil’s Principal Guest Conductor Susanna Malkki.  First up was a concert of Berlioz, sandwiching a recent violin concerto by Dino Francesconi  entitled Duende.  This was performed by Leila Josefowicz, who gave it its world premier.  It consists of 5 short movements that this listener failed to see how they tied together.  What lingers is the astonishing cadenza for Ms. Josefowicz in the 4th movement.  It was like a hurricane came through the hall.  I really fail to find the words to describe it, except that it was chaotic and breathtaking and everything music can be all at once.

The Berlioz to start was the Queen Mab Scherzo, and the Berlioz to finish was the Symphonie Fantastique.  Ms. Malkki is from Finland, studying in the same conducting program that Esa Pekka Salonen came from, so it is no surprise hse sound in this music is a lot like his.  It is very crisp and clear, you hear every single detail.  This worked particularly well in the Scherzo, and in the first 3 movements of the Symphonie, but in the wild rides that are the March to the Scaffold, and then the Witches Sabbath, one wishes she would loosen that clarity and control, and let it be wild like that cadenza in the concerto.  Berlioz can handle that treatment.

The second concert was one of those strange hybrid “Let’s do something different to attract more listeners” kind of thing.  The vehicle was Mendelssohn’s complete incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This is about 40 minutes of music maybe, and the balance of the concert was taken up with selected scenes from the play. Obviously, the play is longer than the 90 minutes or so of time left for the play.  The result is that you better know the plot, because these excerpts wont do much for you.  They seemed to concentrate mostly on the story of the 2 confused human couples, and left the politics of the fairies and of the tradesmen’s play to barely be mentioned.

I was there for the music, and Ms. Malkki’s style dovetails perfectly with Mendelssohn.  The overture, the best piece of music ever written by a 16 year old, was a total delight.  This was a great night for the woodwinds.  I even managed to enjoy one of the most frightening pieces of music ever written, the Wedding March.

So there you have it.  I am all caught up, work is settling back down, and I hope to be a more regular contributor going forward.

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