A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

On Saturday night, Gustavo Dudamel led the LA Phil in a program featuring three works by Igor Stravinsky, the Suites Nos. 1 and 2 for Small Orchestra and The Rite of Spring. Sandwiched in between was the U.S. premiere of Mysteriën by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen.

Dudamel opened with Stravinsky’s two orchestral suites, which are Stravinsky’s orchestrations of eight piano duets he wrote for his children. Even though Stravinsky is most well known for his large-scale ballet suites (Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring), he was a master of the miniature and the economical. These two suites are composed of four (each) very short sections or movements (13 minutes total for both suites). The suites, especially the second one, are written in the burlesque style that also characterizes Stravinsky’s ballet Petrushka. In fact, the Valse from the second suite could have been taken from Petrushka.

Dudamel and the Phil perfectly captured both the childlike feeling and the humor of the Suites, and Associate Principal Flutist Catherine Ransom Karoly showed her chops in the Valse movement of the second suite.

Andriessen’s Mysteriën, composed and premiered in 2013, was commissioned by the Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam for the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on the occasion of the125th anniversary of both the hall and the orchestra. The work is composed of six sections, or “frescoes” in Andriessen’s words, each depicting a worldly scene of a religious setting. It is scored for a large orchestra (although not as large as Le Sacre du printemps). Interestingly, there are no bassoons. Instead there is bass and a contrabass clarinet that serves to ground the lower strings. Although there is a large percussion ensemble, Andriessen doesn’t beat the listener over the head (no pun intended) with percussion like many contemporary composers. Rather he uses it sparingly to complement the traditional orchestral instruments. And the percussionists were superb, especially Principal Percussionist Raynor Carroll, who hasn’t been seen for some time. The rest of the orchestra performed flawlessly. The audience responded with polite applause it was clear they were there for Le Sacre du printemps.

Dudamel and the LA Phil have an affinity for Le Sacre, which was composed 100 years before Andriessen’s Mysteriën. Dudamel has performed it more than once, both with the LA Phil and the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, and the LA Phil has performed it under different conductors, including their past music director, Essa Peka Salonen.

On Saturday night, listeners witnessed a different Le Sacre than the last time Dudamel conducted it. It was more nuanced, both in the quieter sections and the louder ones. Dudamel also nuanced the tempo in a few places, most notably in the next to last section of the piece, the Ritual Performance of the Ancestors. At times Dudamel was cueing so many sections in such rapid succession it was hard to believe he could do that and still keep the complex rhythm called for. And Dudamel loves drums, which he had booming! He also extended the quarter-note rest in the flutes at the very end just for effect before the last fortissimo chord.

Dudamel and the LA Phil’s Le Sacre brought screams and whistles and a standing ovation from the partisan crowd which lasted for several curtain calls. Not quite the riot that ensued after its premiere in Paris, but Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps continues to excite audiences. Gustavo Dudamel knows how to milk that effect.

The concert repeats today at 2 p.m.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

For more information, visit www.laphil.com.