Editor: Marc Bridle
Webmaster: Len Mullenger
Seen and Heard International Concert Review
Ives, Adams, Ravel: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Music Director, Avery Fisher Hall, New York City, 5 June, 2005 (BH)
Ives: The Unanswered Question (1906)
Adams: The Dharma at Big Sur (2003) (New York premiere)
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé (1909-1912)
Tracy Silverman, Electric Violin
Concert Chorale of New York
James Bagwell, Director
In a bit of a surprise to my ears, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented a bang-up afternoon at Lincoln Center, the first concert I’d heard by this group after hearing them during the last two years in their exquisite new home at Disney Concert Hall. What I heard yesterday showed decisively that the Los Angeles Philharmonic does not require Disney’s luxurious acoustics to sound their best.
As Salonen strode out for the Ives, only the four flute players were onstage, spaced apart, with the strings bunched together in the back corner of the hall behind the audience, and the trumpet player (the orchestra’s towering Donald Green) at back right. The house lights dimmed until the theater was almost totally dark, and without raising a baton, the strings began emitting the almost imperceptibly soft G-major chord that seems to last forever. As I gazed up at the tiny lights over the stage, now looking like stars in the darkness, Green’s probing trumpet asked Ives’ “question,” each time answered by the flutes with increasing frenzy and desperation, before the peaceful strings gently faded away in the last measure. Salonen’s theatrical concept may have seemed gimmicky to some, but I found it haunting.
Formerly of the Turtle Island String Quartet, Tracy Silverman is an intense violin player with a bent toward improvisatory jazz and “fiddlin’,” and John Adams has written a piece for him that shows him at his best. Against an orchestral backdrop of what were often shimmering major chords, Silverman used a gorgeous, light-colored wireless instrument in soulful contrast. His sweetly bluesy lines, although not improvised, nevertheless had that kind of spontaneity, incorporating Adams’ influences from Iran and Afghanistan, or at times from Indian ragas. The first section, “A New Day,” began with a true pianissimo in the orchestra, which eventually wended its way to a throbbing, drumming final few pages in the second part, called “Sri Moonshine.”
The afternoon concluded with a monumental, electric Daphnis et Chloé, in all its luxuriant glory, with some impressively physical climaxes vibrating up through the floor. Another general query for the universe is why the complete score is rarely done, since there is ravishing music at every turn. The Los Angeles musicians delivered sweeping phrases and some provocative colors, including many dazzling moments by the orchestra’s principal flute, Anne Diener Zentner, and principal oboe Marion Arthur Kusyk, both of whom received ovations at the end. The hardworking Concert Chorale of New York, nicely rehearsed by James Bagwell, intoned its crucial, wordless part with effortless bravura, and the climactic final pages of Part III were thrilling, as Salonen urged all forces into the best kind of orgiastic frenzy.
After the crowd calmed down (and the charismatic conductor seems to attract more than his share of vocal fans), he announced, “We’re going to do something Finnish,” and gently began Sibelius’ Valse Triste, that for the umpteenth time that afternoon demonstrated the orchestra’s ability to play very, very softly. Salonen’s lithe touch showed winsomeness and a slight hesitation that overrode any hint of sentimentality. Linking it with the Ravel, the sly female friend with me likened it to a cigarette after good sex.