A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

On Nov. 1, Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov led the LA Phil in two Opus 64 works, the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 by Mendelssohn with Renaud Capuçon as soloist and An Alpine Symphony by Richard Strauss, Op. 64.

The first half was devoted to the Mendelssohn concerto, and from the outset it was clear that the concerto was in very able hands—literally. Capuçon is short in stature but not in his playing; he produces a large sound. With the Mendelssohn, he was able to balance a precise attack with lightning speed on the fret board, especially in the coda to the finale, which was even faster, all the while maintaining a beautiful full sound. Bychkov maintained the orchestra’s distance when necessary, but when the orchestra was center stage, he brought out a full romantic sound.

Strauss saved his best—or at least his biggest—for last. Strauss’ An Alpine Symphony was the last and largest—in terms of numbers of musicians (about 150!)—of his tone poems, for which he was, and still is, most known. It was completed 27 years after his first tone poem, Don Juan. However, its initial inspiration was a trek through the Alps Strauss made when he was 14. Did I mention that the score calls for a large orchestra? In addition to strings, there are two harps, celesta, organ, four of most woodwind and brass instruments, except for 16 horns (Strauss was always partial to the French horn because his father played the instrument), two sets of timpani and a pretty full complement of percussion instruments, including wind and thunder machines.

But An Alpine Symphony (which is not really a symphony in any traditional sense) is more than just a loud tone poem; it contains some very beautiful—and very Strauss-like—passages. And it contains one of the best, and loudest, storm scenes in all of classical music (one is reminded of the storm scenes in Rossini’s overture to William Tell and in Beethoven’s sixth symphony).

Bychkov led an inspired performance of Strauss’ final tone poem, and the Phil played marvelously. Several principals got noticeable solos. Principal Oboe Arianna Ghez (who garnered the loudest cheers from the audience), Principal Trumpet Thomas Hooten and Roger Kaza on French horn all played superbly.

Hearing An Alpine Symphony performed by the LA Phil in Disney Hall was a spectacular musical and sonic experience. One can usually gauge how the orchestra feels about a conductor when he (or she) asks them to stand and they refuse, but applaud the conductor instead; and that is exactly what happened on Sunday after two curtain calls.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

For information about upcoming concerts, visit www.laphil.com.