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Music Review (LA): Dudamel at the Hollywood Bowl 2011

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Dudamel loves the Bowl; it was where he made his American debut. Being a man of the people, the Hollywood Bowl is certainly where the people, old, young, rich, and poor can gather on a summer’s night to hear some music. Dudamel loves his music and wants to give it to as many as he can. 2011 was no exception. He presented four separate evenings in diverse styles in what he calls “ this magical place.”

The first concert was a meeting of superstars Dudamel and the young pianist Lang Lang. They are both 30 and have never played together before. Both artists are known for their expressive and technically versatile styles. The theme for the evening was Russian exhilaration. Dudamel started things off with Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances that is also the basis for the musical stage as Kismet. Well, it certainly was kismet when Lang Lang and Dudamel combined forces to present the very popular Piano Concerto No. 3 by Prokofiev.

The concerto demands a very showy display of technique on the piano, and Lang Lang was up to the challenge, making the Bowl audience rise to their feet. For his encore, Lang Lang chose to play Liszt’s Consolation #3 which displayed his romantic, but still showy skill as a pianist. Dudamel wound up the evening with a nearly perfect rendition of Ravel’s orchestrations of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. It was a thrilling evening.

Dudamel’s next appearance was only a few days later when he took on the monumental Turandot by Puccini. For one of the few times that I have seen him, he did carry a score while his usual mode is scoreless. Dudamel gave us an exuberant rendition complete with atmospherics provided by the Bowl’s lighting designer, with a giant harvest moon projected onto the rear of the shell. The singers for the evening were Poretta, a last minute replacement from New York, as the Calaf hitting High c after high c and holding them seemingly forever. Hong was the usually meek Liu, but here she dressed quite elegantly and sang with more gusto, which is appropriate for the Bowl. The ice princess herself was attempted by Christine Brewer, a noted Wagnerian and Straussian soprano. Oddly she did a lot of swooping to reach her notes and was more a desperate Princess rather than a towering Ice Princess. Los Angeles Children’s Chorus provided a powerful choral sound behind the orchestra.

Mozart and the Bowl is the perfect marriage. There is nothing quite like listening to the delicate and playful sounds of Mozart under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl, and when the conductor is Dudamel, the event becomes something extra special. Dudamel’s third evening at the Bowl was dedicated to Mozart. Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic began the evening with the spritely overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio. This bit of Mozart fluff nevertheless is a foreshadowing of his more complex operas to come. The opera has some rather exotic orchestration, piccolo, triangle, big drum, and cymbals being added to the normal combination of instruments. Seraglio was a hit in Mozart’s time and one can hear why; it is joyous, a bit naughty, and altogether pleasant.

Seraglio was followed by Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major, K. 219. Gil Shaham is one of the foremost violinists of our time. Shaham combines flawless technique with a warmth and generosity of spirit. He played the concerto with specificity and passion, earning a standing ovation from the audience. His encore, much appreciated by Dudamel and the orchestra as well as the audience, was Shaham’s own arrangement of a traditional Turkish number, “Nihavend Longa” in keeping with the Turkish theme of Seraglio. This is a showy piece inviting the audience to cheer during the flashier moments.

Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony completed the evening. Dudamel had played this in seasons past at Disney Hall but displayed new depths and mastery for this outing. Dudamel continues to impress with his ever-growing development as one of the world’s great conductors.

Evening number four for Dudamel at the Bowl was dedicated, for the most part, to Strauss, playing the gorgeous Overture to Die Fledermaus. Being a well-known and popular composition, the audience was primed for what was to come. But before we had New Year in July, guest soloist Pinchas Zuckerman treated us to Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, Opus 26. Though this piece is well known in musical circles this was my first time hearing it. The piece is a sweetly melancholic composition, sweetly played by Zukerman. Dudamel, having trained as a violinist himself, seemed to relish bringing the composition to the Bowl.

Not wanting to stray too far from the Straussian theme, the concert concluded with three rousing pieces that made the audience, and I might say Dudamel himself, dance a sway to the music. In quick succession the LA Phil played Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No. 1, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2, and concluding with Strauss’ On The Beautiful Blue Danube. Then Dudamel spoke to the gathered assembly of his delight in playing such diverse music over the last four concerts. Dudamel loves the Bowl and calls it a “magical place.” After all, he made his American debut at the Bowl so it holds a special place in his heart. Then Dudamel treated us to himself playing the glockenspiel interjections in Pizzicato Polka. Everyone, the orchestra included, had a terrific time.

 

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