Los Angeles Philharmonic/ Dudamel; Orphée review – glitz meets gravitas

The Guardian-1 year before

This being one of the world’s great orchestras, there was no such danger. It was a virtuosic reading in which melody and textural transparency were as much to the fore as rhythm and frenzy. Here for a three-day residency, with the added allure of Yuja Wang, the Beijing-born piano superstar, as soloist in John Adams’s third piano concerto, the California pla...ers showed their mettle. Their reputation is glitzy: how could an orchestra from LA whose two homes are the Hollywood Bowl and the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall not exude glamour?

three-day residency Yuja Wang Hollywood Bowl Walt Disney Concert Hall Yet their standards are of the highest, their commitment to new commissions and modern repertoire unrivalled among US orchestras. Dudamel, who is still music director of the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra in his native Venezuela, has been with the LA Phil for a decade. He can still be a showman when the time is right – conducting their glorious encore, Sousa’s The Liberty Bell, with little more than a swivelled hip and a bent knee – but his customary podium manner is sober, meticulous, clear. Opening with the Variaciones Concertantes, Op 23 by Alberto Ginastera (1916-83), the orchestra had plenty of chance to show off its soloists, especially the sonorous viola in the “Variazione drammatica”. It’s a long piece, however, with many variations but not enough variety.

Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra

Gustavo Dudamel with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Barbican. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Yuja Wang, now a Barbican featured artist, delivered the London premiere of Adams’s Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? (2018), written for her, with ferocious verve, capturing the limpid, short-lived lyricism of the central slow section with sensuous grace, hammering out the perpetual motion of the whole as if improvising jazz riffs rather than playing a notated score. Her encores ranged across the musical spectrum, from the witty “Do You Come Here Often” by the LA-born conductor-composer Michael Tilson Thomas to Liszt’s transcription of a Schubert song, Gretchen am Spinnrade, D118. A Toccatina by the Russian jazz-pianist-composer Nikolai Kapustin (b1937), full of propulsive virtuosity, was a fitting bridge to The Rite of Spring.

Barbican featured artist Must the Devil Have All the Good Tunes? The French writer and artist Jean Cocteau was in the Paris audience in 1913 for the scandalous premiere of the Rite, providing an important eyewitness account as well as drawing a cartoon of Stravinksy rehearsing the piece at the piano in front of a bewildered salon crowd. Both artists, decades later, tackled the Orpheus myth: Stravinsky in a ballet, Cocteau a film, out of which, in 1991, Philip Glass made an opera, Orphée. This was the last work in English National Opera’s current Orpheus season. Expertly conducted (by Geoffrey Paterson), incisively played and sung, Glass’s version may not add much to the 1950 film, but it has hypnotic charm. In the hands of Netia Jones – who is director, costume designer, video designer and co-translator – it grows richer and more resonant thanks to impeccable creative vision.

a cartoon the last work Geoffrey Paterson Netia Jones Borrowing from the pictorial language of the movie, Jones has made a staging of monochrome beauty, illuminated with bright splashes of colour, mixing her own distinctive use of computer graphics and cinematic reference with live performance. Cocteau’s story is complicated, and Glass demands much, especially in Act 1, of the excellent singers: the celebrated poet Orphée (Nicholas Lester) falls in love with a Princess (Jennifer France) who is Death. His wife, Euridyce (Sarah Tynan), finds comfort in the Princess’s enchanting chauffeur, Heurtebise (Nicky Spence). The underworld, ashen and shadowy in Jones’s depiction, offset by the fuchsia pink of the Princess’s couture gown, perfectly reflects the eventually purposeful energy of Glass’s dreamlike score.

Sarah Tynan (Eurydice), Nicholas Lester (Orphée) and Nicky Spence (Heurtebise) in Orphée by Philip Glass at the Coliseum.
Sarah Tynan (Eurydice), Nicholas Lester (Orphée) and Nicky Spence (Heurtebise) in Orphée by Philip Glass at the Coliseum. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Given the widespread criticism of this ENO season, I would praise both Orphée and Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus. Returning to the Birtwistle for the final performance, I found Daniel Kramer’s production had settled and coalesced. Musically it was faultless. Much that had seemed excessive, whether on stage or in the pit, now made sense. Worthwhile creations don’t always reveal their secrets on first encounter.

The Mask of Orpheus Classical music The Observer Gustavo Dudamel English National Opera (ENO) Philip Glass live music reviews Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share via Email Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Share on WhatsApp Share on Messenger

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