There are probably a lot of exciting things happening in Los Angeles on any given Saturday night. But for classical music lovers it’s hard to imagine anything more exciting than the LA Phil concert this past Saturday at Walt Disney Concert Hall conducted by former music director and Conductor Laureate Esa-Pekka Salonen.
Salonen programmed three works: The world premiere of his own orchestral work, Castor, the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35 by Tchaikovsky, and the Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók.
Salonen’s Castor is named for one of the twin half-brothers in the Greek and Roman mythology whose mother was Leda but who had different fathers. As Salonen describes it, he composed two orchestral works. The first, named after the other brother, Castor, was “slow and dark in expression,” whereas Castor is “extroverted and mostly fast.” Extroverted indeed! It starts out like a horse race with a barrage of timpani and bass drums and never lets up for 12 minutes. The piece is a wall of sound projected at the audience in perpetual motion. The effect is like a tornado, lifting the audience up and not letting them down until the final tutti chord.
The audience welcomed Salonen on stage like always with cheers and applause, and at the conclusion of Castor, showed their appreciation for his composing and conducting with equal energy.
Salonen followed his wild ride with another wild ride, this time the equally thrilling Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto performed by an 18-year-old phemom, Daniel Lozakovich, who was born in Stockholm of a Belarusian father and a Kyrgyz mother on April 1, 2001. This tall, lanky kid with a baby face walked on stage and in short order blew the audience away with his virtuosic playing. In fact, at the rousing conclusion of the first movement, the audience broke out in cheers and gave a standing ovation that lasted until Salonen motioned for everyone to sit for the other two movements.
Lozakovich’s playing still has the raw, unbridled sound of youth, not refined to the point of perfection, which gave the performance an energy and passion that was contagious. He attacked the low strings with a growl and volume that belied his lankiness and that showed that he has conquered his instrument. He took the first and third movements at a speed that barely gave the audience time to take a breath after Salonen’s Castor. And if one had the gall to think Lozakovich could only play fast, he showed exquisite control in the second movement, “Canzonetta,” but even more so in the encore Salonen suggested he perform: the Adagio from the Bach G Minor Sonata for solo violin. Just as Lozakovich had done with the electrifying Tchaikovsky, he held the audience spell bound with his reading of the Bach — just the strings of a lone violin vibrating through the universe of Disney Hall.
As if Salonen hadn’t done enough with his Castor and the Tchaikovsky, he concluded the concert with Bartók’s 1943 masterpiece. After the exhausting trip with Castor and Lozakovich’s playing of the Tchaikovsky before intermission, Salonen really showed why his conducting prowess is at its peak with the Bartók.
The Concerto for Orchestra, the second to the last piece Bartók composed, was written in only two months while Bartók was at a health resort in upstate New York suffering from leukemia, which would kill him two years later in 1945. The Concerto is an orchestral showpiece, and what better orchestra to showcase it than the LA Phil? The musicians of the Phil all shone, as they had all evening, and the performance was exhilarating. Salonen’s interpretation could not have been better.
All of the pieces on the program are thrilling in their own way, and the cumulative effect of Salonen and the Phil’s performance was to take the audience out of the real world of depressing politics, environmental degradation and social unrest and transport them for two hours to a world of pure unadulterated music.
—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA