The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s opening night program with a souvenir bit of golden film, one of thousands of pieces showered on the audience at the end of the performance.
Tuesday’s opening night of the Los Angeles Philharmonic 2017-18 season concluded by showering the audience with pieces of golden glitter – actually discs of thin, gold film — and yes, we have a metaphor going.
It was a night of bright, shiny objects — entertaining but not terribly substantial – certainly a description of pianist Yuja Wang’s skimpy, sparkly outfit. I attended courtesy of senior rush and at $20, the concert was a bargain. But if I had paid full price, I would be disinclined to go again.
(In case you are wondering, I was a music critic in a previous life and decided to jot a few lines about my impressions).
The concert, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, was an exploration of Mozart’s early years — except for a bit of Milhaud that crept in as a duo-piano encore. The concert opens the orchestra’s extended look at Mozart’s music; the final piano concerto, chamber works, the Clarinet Concerto and selections from “The Magic Flute” are planned into October. This entry of juvenile works might have seemed like a good idea on paper, but in execution it was rather baffling, and the timing – on opening night, which is usually reserved for orchestral warhorses – seemed curious.
The evening began with a bit of Mozart juvenilia, the Symphony No. 1, K. 16, ostensibly written when Mozart was 8, and the skeptic in me wondered whether this was one of those early pieces written by Leopold Mozart and passed off as the work of his son, the musical genius. (Leopold was not above pulling such tricks and as I recall from my music history days, Sir Charles Burney devoted a lot of time to debunking some of Leopold’s claims about young Wolfgang). Alas, that is not a research question I will be pursuing today.
The true test of an orchestra and a conductor isn’t always a Mahler symphony with a massive orchestra and huge chorus – sometimes Mozart can be a more accurate gauge, simply because in Mozart, there no place hide: There are about 30 players and the writing is exposed.
In the Symphony No. 1, the orchestra, under Dudamel, played pleasingly well; the players had a nice, clean tone and a good sense of ensemble. The melodies are familiar to even the most casual classical radio listener and one could easily hum along, if one had the bad manners to hum along with an orchestra. In the Mozart kitchen, it is small potatoes.
The program proceeded in chronological order with two vocal works: “Discede Crudelis” from “Apollo and Hyacinthus,” K. 38, with countertenor Tim Mead and soprano Anna Prohaska; and “Exsultate Jubilate,” K. 165, with Prohaska. There is really nothing to say about “Discede Crudelis,” which Mozart wrote when he was 11, except that it was performed. On the other hand, “Exsultate Jubilate” is usually a bravura showpiece, but not Tuesday night. Granted, the acoustics at Disney Hall can be iffy, but from Orchestra West, Prohaska did the aria – but there were no fireworks.
The featured performers of the evening were pianists Yuja Wang and Jean-Yves Thibaudet substituting for Yefim Bronfman, who was indisposed with a respiratory infection.
Wang and Thibaudet are two of the reigning masters of the keyboard, and they made easy work of the Double Piano Concerto, K. 365, which is familiar to even the most casual classical radio listener. I always deplore reviews that make so much of Wang’s outfits – which are so little. She was wearing what appeared to be giant platform heels and I did wonder if she would lose her step as she tottered over the podium to her piano , but she got a helping hand from Dudamel and Thibaudet. She is a first-rate pianist and I am hesitant to mention her outfit, but it would be a bit like going to a Liberace concert and not describing his costumes.
Wang and Thibaudet played a pleasant, flashy encore: “Brasileira” from Milhaud’s “Scaramouche,” the only bit of non-Mozart on the program.
I was mystified when a pair of trumpet players and several percussionists strolled on stage for the piano concerto and patiently waited. The answer to the mystery came with the encore: The overture to “The Abduction From the Seraglio,” K. 384, written when Mozart was in his mid-20s. It’s a fun little curtain-raiser with lots of spirit and the orchestra performed it with brio.
Cue the glitter; this is, after all, Tinseltown.