A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Gustavo Dudamel continued to demonstrate his mastery of the standard orchestral repertoire last night when he led the LA Philharmonic in a performance of two major works: Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K 466, with Richard Goode at the keyboard, and the tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss.

Friday evening’s concert began with the Mozart concerto, only one of two he wrote in a minor key. Although Goode played well and Dudamel and the orchestra provided a clean and deferential accompaniment, there was something missing in Goode’s performance, at least for this reviewer. There were times when not all of the notes in a run were played with equal emphasis, giving the impression that notes were either missed or omitted. Overall, although there was nothing glaringly wrong with the performance, it was a disappointing one that left the audience wanting for something about which to stand and cheer.

The Strauss was an altogether different story. As Dudamel does with most other major orchestral pieces, he conducted without a score. In fact, one wonders how he finds the time to memorize these complex scores considering his demanding and busy schedule. Dudamel clearly reveled in the luxuriousness of Strauss’ score and the opportunity to conduct more than 100 outstanding musicians — even if they were all dressed in street clothes for the Casual Friday concert. Other interpretations sometimes come across as more serious, perhaps attempting to mine some of the perceived philosophical profundity of the book by Nietzsche. Dudamel, on the contrary, offered up a more playful and joyous version.  Thus, even though the piece ends quietly with high woodwinds followed by pizzicato basses, once Dudamel finally lowered his arms after several seconds of deafening silence, the audience rose to their feet to show their appreciation for the thrilling sonic ride.

I was glad to be able to show off Dudamel and the LA Phil in Disney Hall, especially performing the Strauss, to the first-time visitor from San Diego who sat next to me. The Casual Friday concerts are a particularly intimate occasion, as the shortened program (On Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, the program includes Grabstein für Stephan by György Kurtág.) allows time to get to know the LA Phil. Rather than having an intermission, an orchestra member talks with the audience between pieces, and after the concert there is a Q&A session and the chance to mingle with the musicians over cocktails.