By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Is there any conductor who looks like he’s enjoying himself more than Gustavo Dudamel when he’s on a podium? Never in my experience, as we saw again this morning when the 29-year-old Venezuelan led the Vienna Philharmonic in the final concert of this year’s Lucerne Festival, televised live from the KKL Concert Hall in the Swiss city to more than 50 theaters in Europe and streamed around the world via medici.tv.
If you followed my posts of this week, there was a discrepancy between my post and that of David Ng (LA Times Culture Monster) as to the start time of today’s live feed. David had it beginning at 7:30 a.m. today; I thought it was at 9:30 (the Lucerne start time was 6:30 p.m. and the Swiss city is nine hours ahead of us) and my calculation turned out to be correct.
However, if you got up at 7:30 a.m., you got a couple of bonus performances on the Web, including one from the VBS Festival Orchestra, a youth ensemble that was being conducted by Valery Gergiev with Martha Argerich as the pianist in Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Trumpet soloist David Guerrier was scintillating, as was Argerich. The ovation was so thunderous that all concerned encored the third movement.
As to the Vienna Phil concert — which you can see for 90 days free via VOD (Video on Demand) from medici.tv — it’s definitely worth two hours of your time. Now, hearing a concert via the internet isn’t the same thing as being in a concert hall, by any means, but there are some compensations: you can relax in an easy chair, wear shorts or pajamas and sip on a Diet Coke while watching and listening.
Apart from a snippet of Gustavo welcoming people to the event, there was no commentary — no gushing interviews or celebrity happy talk — on the telecast, which is not a bad thing. Instead we saw some excellent camera work, including backstage looks at Gustavo coming on and off stage. I lost count of how many glass of water he drank (at least, I assume it was water — if it was alcohol, I’m not sure he would have been standing at the concert’s conclusion). It also appears that Gustavo needs a hair trim before he gets to New York City (he and the VPO play this same program Oct. 2 at Carnegie Hall) and back to L.A.; the curly locks looked pretty shaggy.
I particularly liked the image of the music for Ravel’s Pavane pour une Infante défunte on the violin 6 stand, which looked old enough to be original. It’s also worth noting Gustavo wasn’t the only one enjoying himself; plenty of musicians were smiling during the concert, particularly the principal cellist. Gustavo’s enthusiasm appears to be infectious.
I note with some amusement that people in Lucerne aren’t any more prompt about arriving than in Los Angeles. The opening images of the Webcast showed a concert hall half-full (maybe), which reminded me of my first visit to Salzburg, Austria. On a Sunday morning, I went to that city’s Franziskanerkirche to hear a service dedicating a new organ with a performance of Charles-Marie Widor’s Mass for Two Choirs and Organ. Ten minutes before the service’s beginning there were about 25 people in the church; by the time the mass began, another 1,000+ people had shown up. That’s what we saw at the beginning of the telecast today; 10 minutes ahead of time we saw a hall (seating capacity of 1,890) with mostly empty seats; by the downbeat, every seat was full. Maybe a train was late (the concert hall is immediately adjacent to the Luzern train station).
BTW: the KKL Luzern Concert Hall was built in 1999 and designed by French architect Jean Nouvel (with acoustics by Russell Johnson). It has a dramatic setting outside next to Lake Luzern. Inside the orchestra floor seats use an interesting arrangement that looks somewhat like a stringed musical instrument.
Dudamel and the Vienna Phil (which sounded splendid, as usual) opened with Rossini’s Overture to La gaza ladra (The Thieving Magpie), a piece familiar to baby boomers and older through its use in cartoons of the 1950s and 1960s. It’s also how Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic will open its Gala concert on Oct 7 (LINK) and is what James DePreist will use to begin his Oct. 23 concert with the Pasadena Symphony (LINK).
Although Dudamel conducted the concert from memory, one of the better off-stage images saw him sneaking a peak at the score while waiting to go onstage to conduct Cuban composer Julián Orbón’s Tres versiones sinfónicas.
The program notes said that this 1954 work “pays homage to three different sound worlds: the Spanish dance of the pavane, medieval processional song, and Afro-Caribbean music” and that proved to be an accurate description. The first and third movements were exhilarating, with Dudamel at his dancing, bouncing best on the podium. The inner pavane alternated between enchanting mysticism and luxuriant sonorities both in its writing and in the VPO’s performance. One advantage of hearing something on the Internet is that you can go back and hear it again, which I did at the conclusion of the live telecast. It’s hard to believe Dudamel hasn’t programmed this piece in L.A., yet.
The second half of the concert featured Bernstein’s complete Divertimento for Orchestra (the orchestra had used one of the sections as an encore on its European tour), followed by Ravel’s Pavane pour une Infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess) and Boléro. The most interesting thing about Bolero was the almost leisurely tempo that Dudamel used, but it gave orchestra principals a chance to shine gloriously and built to a pulsating conclusion that elicited a lengthy, thunderous ovation from the audience.
As he did throughout the evening (and does in Los Angeles), Dudamel took his bows from deep within the orchestra. The single encore was also one used by the Phil on its European tour: the intermezzo from Puccini's Manon Lescaut.
(c) Copyright 2010, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.
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