Gustavo Dudamel rocked the Hollywood Bowl with a spectacular performance of “Carmina Burana” July 21, conducting the LA Philharmonic, the LA Master Chorale and the National Children’s Chorus. The night was one to remember, just happening to fall on the 10-year anniversary of Dudamel’s first performance in Los Angeles, which incidentally was at the Hollywood Bowl. The ambiance of the Bowl was a catalyst for electrifying the energy, amplified even higher by an enthusiastic audience.
Orff’s is a visceral music, simple and rhythmic, that innately matched the 13th-century roots of the text. Within only a few days after Orff discovered the text, he had already composed the magnificent opening chorus. This inspired inception was channeled by Dudamel, who was exuberant from the start, with a quick tempo and provocative attitude. The Chorale was majestic with the opening invocation to the goddess Fortuna.
The orchestra and chorus infused “Primo Vere” (Spring) with a sense of anticipation. Baritone Brian Mulligan was a commanding presence and often expressed the theatrical nature of Orff’s colorful characters; his falsetto was seamless. The percussion was powerful and varied, and gave the music its characteristic punch and patina. The Chorale was light and energetic, dancing folk-like over duple and triple rhythms but never missing a step in “Uf dem anger.” Their playful and seductive “Swaz hie gat umbe” gracefully relaxed to the calm flow of “Chume, chum, geselle min.”
The second sequence of songs, “In Taberna” (In the Tavern) was rowdy, based on poems of gambling, drunkenness and debauchery that captured the sketchy attitudes of the monks who collected the original corpus. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee had a wonderful, clear voice with an intensity that pierced the night air. He soared.
“Cour D’Amours” (The Court of Love), the last of the three sections, describes an idyllic world of courtly love, natural and free — a sentiment that was marvelously captured by the ensembles. The alluring energy of “Veni, veni, venias” quietly hummed with its underlying power anticipating what is yet to come. Soprano Joélle Harvey had a most luxurious tone that was perfect for the delicate “In Trutina,” and the angelic sound of the children’s voices blended beautifully with her sensuous and sweet song. The National Children’s Chorus (Luke McEndarfer, artistic director) was superb, having just returned from a successful New York/Great Britain summer tour. The woodwinds were spectacular in their accompaniment, and flutist Catherine Ransom-Karoly was a standout.
The Wheel came full circle to complete the cycle, but this time Dudamel was far more animated, stooping, even leaping, with full-body gestures to bring the climactic return to “O Fortuna.” Timpanist Joseph Pereira was a dynamo.
A stunning performance — perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The first half of the program featured two works from popular composer Eric Whitacre. “Her Sacred Spirit Soars” for chorus was moving. The complex harmonies ebbed and flowed to produce a rich, emotive soundscape. The control of the Chorale in pianissimo passages was extraordinary. Dudamel’s choral style was subdued, quite different from LAMC Associate Conductor Leslie Leighton, although the singers responded naturally to his direction. Whitacre’s “Equus” was purely orchestral and modern, although not experimental. His music is original, although after a fashion, like Orff, he built a sound that was fundamentally approachable. The rhythmic figures and galloping ostinato supported a light, almost danceable music. The Phil was evocative and powerful, but Dudamel saved his big guns for Carmina.
Bravo — a fantastic night at the Hollywood Bowl! Happy 10th anniversary to Gustavo and Los Angeles!
For information on upcoming concerts, visit www.hollywoodbowl.com.