On Friday night, LA Phil Music Director Gustavo Dudamel conducted the first concert in a two-week series of programs featuring the four symphonies of Charles Ives and the last three symphonies of Antonín Dvořák.
One might ask, “Why Ives and Dvořák?” Well, for one thing, Ives was American, and Dvořák lived and worked in the United States from 1892 until 1895, where he composed two of his most important and lasting works, the Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 (“From the New World”) and the Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104. But more than just living here, Dvořák became interested in American music and its African-American and Native-American musical roots, which he incorporated into several of his American works, including the Ninth Symphony and the String Quartet in F major, Op. 96 (“American”).
Of course, Ives was not only an American composer, but one who, like Dvořák, incorporated American hymns, traditional songs, etc., into his music.
By the time Ives wrote his first symphony, which he began in 1894 and finished in 1902, Dvořák had already written his last three symphonies. If one didn’t know better, one could assume that instead of a symphony by an American composer, it was written by a late Romantic European composer, although there are some early hints at Ives’ later works. But more than that, Ives was more directly influenced by Dvořák. The third movement has an English horn solo that reminds one of the slow movement of Dvořák’s ninth symphony.
Before the concert, the announcer informed the audience that the concert was being recorded for future use and to try to be as quiet as possible. It’s hard to say whether the fact that it was being recorded had any effect on Dudamel or the orchestra, but both were in top form. In fact, because the concert was so exciting, it evokes many clichés—that the Dude and his band knocked not one but two out of the park, that they took it up a notch, etc.
When Dudamel conducts the Phil, even in all of his modest humility, it is obvious that he wants to show off his band; and show it off he did on Friday night. The Ives sounded fresh, like this was a premiere, which it might have been for many in the audience. Dudamel took the audience on a wild Ives ride from the first two movements with their sweeping melodies to the urgent scherzo: vivace to the fourth movement in which Dudamel added marching-band-like percussion at the end of the fourth movement. Dudamel brought the orchestra and the audience to a musical climax that unleashed cheers and bravos.
The Dvořák was no different. Just as in the Ives, Dudamel moved the orchestra seamlessly from the quietest of pianissimos to the loudest of fortissimos. The slow movement, which Dudamel took slower than poco adagio, was a thing of beauty with Principal Horn Andrew Bain and the other horn players playing as sweetly as Dvořák intended. And, as he did with the finale of the Ives fourth movement, Dudamel pulled out all the stops — oops, another cliché — for the last 10 bars (molto maestoso), with a thunderous conclusion that brought the house down.
The only question is whether Dudamel and his band can equal or surpass this concert with the three that follow and feature the Ives symphonies Nos. 2, 3 and 4 paired with the symphonies Nos. 8 and 9 by Dvořák.
—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA
For information about the other concerts in this series, visit www.laphil.com.