About the other night…

dudamel-bowl

This is not a review of Gustavo Dudamel and LA Phil’s performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Hollywood Bowl last Thursday night. Just a few thoughts about my experience:

  • When the summer season was released, I was skeptical of hearing Verdi’s Requiem at the Hollywood Bowl. When I arrived at the Bowl Thursday evening, I was still skeptical. It’s too powerful a work to work outdoors amongst the clattering of wine bottles and the chattering of police helicopters overhead. Inevitably, I surmised, the people next to me would reach for the pâté just as tenor Vittorio Grigolo reached the most poignant moment of his solo in the Ingemisco. I was wrong. It totally worked…and I wish I could explain why. Because it shouldn’t have.
  • The only soloist who I hadn’t heard before was also the only soloist I haven’t interviewed for KUSC: soprano Julianna Di Giacomo. I now want to hear more and I would love the opportunity to interview her. She was excellent, if a bit over-miked in her final solo (Libera me).
  • I will always have a soft spot for Michelle DeYoung. She was the first person I ever interviewed for KUSC when I started working there seven years ago. I was nervous, didn’t ask particularly deep questions, and she could have been dismissive, but she wasn’t. I will always remember that.
  • Vittorio Grigolo is my favorite tenor these days, but it felt like he was singing for an indoor performance. He was too expressive–which ought to be a good thing–but which just doesn’t work when there are microphones and 11,000+ people sitting on the side of a hill under the stars.
  • The bass solos in the Verdi Requiem are mostly uninteresting and it always feels like a bit of a letdown to hear such an incredible voice, like Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, get cheated from lack of notes and drama. Still, it’s always nice to hear his voice–as we will in the season-opening production of Carmen at LA Opera.
  • I think Mark Swed’s words about the distracting video production crew in Wednesday’s LA Times reached their intended target. Both performances were being filmed for an upcoming episode of PBS’s Great Performances. (They’ll edit the best bits of both shows together for one broadcast.) Swed rightly castigated the Tuesday crew for distracting camera work, complete with blunders that made it on the IMAG screens during the performance. On Thursday, things were much better. Other than a quick zoom here and a re-center there, the camera work was not distracting at all. In fact, I found the PBS visuals were an upgrade over what we usually get at the Bowl. More cameras, dramatic angles, perfectly calculated shot sheets, subtle and artful movements. The only on-screen view that was a tad strange was the wide shot that showed the entire shell of the Hollywood Bowl at a slightly different angle from how we saw the Bowl in real life from our seats. A bit of an out-of-body experience there.
  • The LA Phil has an incredible pedigree with the Verdi Requiem, going back to Carlo Maria Giulini’s tenure as music director in the late 70s and early 80s. Giulini’s performances of the work here are the stuff of legend (hey, Jim Svejda still talks about them) and there are quite a few musicians in the orchestra who were here then and played in those concerts under Giulini. It’s impossible to hear the LA Phil perform Verdi’s Requiem and not sense the ghost of Giulini urging the bass drummer to hit it harder. Molto sforzando!
  • By the way, if you don’t know the Dies Irae section of the Verdi Requiem, click here.
  • About the bass drummer: I don’t know if Raynor Carroll ever played the Verdi Requiem under Giulini–he arrived in LA in Giulini’s final season as music director–but Carroll clearly knows what the moment means for this orchestra. And Gustavo Dudamel didn’t hold back. Carroll employed not one, but two bass drums and as the chorus sang about the earth “melting away with fervent heat,” Carroll wound up and whacked both of those drums with the force of Yasiel Puig hitting a baseball. (All of a sudden I have a great idea for a Dodgers-LA Phil cross-promotion…)
  • Because I’m a cellist, I notice these things: every single orchestra audition I’ve played has included the opening of the Offertorium (Domine Jesu Christe) on the excerpt list. Sometimes they ask for it and sometimes not. I’ve been told the LA Phil always asks to hear a prospective member of its cello section play this terrifyingly exposed moment of the Verdi Requiem during auditions. Playing this moment and making it sound like one single cello is part of the proud history of the LA Phil’s cello section. Some have been here since the Giulini days, but there are many new members of the section today–including a new principal and associate principal. Regardless, this moment sounded as good as ever. Tradition upheld.
  • The “conductor-as-sports-car-driver” analogy is overused, but a couple of years ago, Gustavo Dudamel traded in his Range Rover for a Porsche, so I’m guessing he’s a bit more familiar with throttle response now than he was in the past. On Thursday, he had pinpoint control, getting exactly how much he wanted precisely when he wanted it. No crescendo redlined too early. There was no turbo lag. It made me miss the first car I ever owned.
  • Every time I go to hear the LA Master Chorale, I go in with the highest expectations. Every time, they exceed them. You’d think I’d get used to this. I haven’t so far–and it’s exhilarating.
  • Helicopter count = 1. Pretty amazing. Did the LA Phil bribe the FAA?
  • Finally, a word about the audience. Before the concert, Gustavo Dudamel asked us to help contribute to the performance with our silence. (He was impish and self-effacing in his request and not at all a jerk.) I figured, yeah right, there are desserts to be munched and wine to be gulped. No way you’re going to keep 11,000+ of us silent. Someone will ruin the moment by kicking their wine bottle down the stairs. But except for an inelegantly timed sneeze right at the beginning, the aforementioned helicopter (which showed up only briefly during a not-particularly-important moment of the Lux Aeterna), and a perfectly-pitched car alarm off in the distance, this was the quietest I’ve ever heard the Hollywood Bowl. Nicely done, fellow Angelinos–I’m totally impressed. Now, if we can somehow convince people to stay at Dodger Stadium past the 7th inning…
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3 thoughts on “About the other night…

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