A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Paavo Järvi / Image courtesy of LA Phil

On March 19, the Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi conducted the LA Phil in three works, Silhouette by Arvo Pärt, the Violin Concerto, Op. 14 by Samuel Barber, and the Symphony No. 7 in D minor, Op. 70 by Antonín Dvořák.

Pärt’s Silhouette was composed in 2009, and this performance was the first by the LA Phil most likely because Pärt was initially inspired to write the work after listening to recordings of his works by Järvi. Pärt dedicated the piece to Järvi being named the chief conductor of the Orchestre de Paris, but its structure was influenced by Gustave Eiffel’s tower. This probably explains the orchestration, which is only for strings and a variety of percussion instruments that throughout the piece reminded one of the steel structure of the Eiffel Tower. 

Like all of Pärt’s works, and unlike some contemporary works, Silhouette is not only interesting to hear live, but is something one would want to hear again. There are also traditional elements to the piece, one being that it is in ¾ time. Silhouette is evocative and atmospheric, and Järvi and the Phil rendered it perfectly.

Hilary Hahn / Image courtesy of LA Phil

The first half concluded with the Barber violin concerto performed by audience favorite Hilary Hahn. This piece seems to have become a signature work for her, and one could see why on Saturday night. She matched the lyrical, melodic nature of the first two movements with seemingly effortless lyrical playing, moving and swaying with the rises and falls of the sweeping phrases. The final movement, Presto in moto perpetuo, reminds one of the fourth movement (Presto) of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, especially the major contrast it presents after the slow funeral march third movement. Barber achieves the same surprising effect with his Presto movement, which jumps out at the listener after the calm of the second movement. Hahn led the way for the violins with her technical expertise matching her lyrical playing in the first two movements. It’s hard to imagine anyone playing this wonderful concerto any better. 

The audience brought her back for an encore of the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita in D minor for solo violin, a frequent encore piece for violinists. Hahn says that she has played the Bach works for solo violin since she was 8 years old. In 1999, she wrote,

Bach is, for me, the touchstone that keeps my playing honest. Keeping the intonation pure in double stops, bringing out the various voices where the phrasing requires it, crossing the strings so that there are not inadvertent accents, presenting the structure in such a way that it’s clear to the listener without being pedantic – one can’t fake things in Bach, and if one gets all of them to work, the music sings in the most wonderful way.

And sing in the most wonderful way it did.

The second half of the concert was devoted to the Symphony No. 7 by Dvořák. Järvi, wearing a pin on his lapel that looked like the colors of the Ukrainian flag, dove into the Dvořák with all of its soaring melodies. During the performance of this intense work, it felt that he was dedicating this monumental symphony to the people of Ukraine. Järvi put his own stamp on the symphony throughout, especially in the last 10 measures of the final movement, which Dvořák marked Molto maestoso (very majestic), and which Järvi slowed down considerably to exaggerate the effect. And the mighty LA Phil rose to the occasion and brought the audience to their feet. Amazingly almost no one got up to leave, preferring instead to shower Järvi and the Phil with their applause and cheering.

Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA