A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

In some ways, the LA Phil concert at Disney Hall on Saturday night was typical for Gustavo Dudamel. The concert featured two works: one contemporary—the Symphony No. 1 by John Corigliano—and one romantic—the Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 by Brahms. Nevertheless, it could be argued that both works were romantic in a way, although at opposite ends of the emotional continuum.

Each of the first three movements of Corigliano’s symphony constitutes a memorial to a friend who died of AIDS. Not exactly a cheery subject, and the symphony itself makes significant demands, both sonically and emotionally, upon the listener. The piece is written for a large-scale orchestra with four trombones and two tubas placed on either side of the stage, six horns split by the five trumpets and a host of percussion instruments, as well as four mandolins (doubled by four second violinists).

The piece has enough melodic lines sandwiched between the dissonance and cacophony, especially in the first and fourth movements to be accessible to the listener. Even though it runs about 40 minutes in length, the fairly standard four-movement structure and the sense of urgency Dudamel and the LA Phil brought to the score made it seem to go by much more quickly. The third movement (written in memory of a college friend of the composer who was an amateur cellist) featured an extended cello solo played with extraordinary passion by Principal Cellist Robert deMaine.

At the conclusion, Dudamel was joined onstage by the composer who graciously accepted the applause from a standing audience, but who in turn applauded the orchestra who had just offered an athletic and impassioned performance of his symphony.

In stark contrast to the seriousness of the Corigliano with its multi-percussive, harsh discordance, the Brahms felt like a breath of fresh air. The epic tragic nature of the Corigliano was replaced with the pastoral nature of the Brahms.

And in his interpretation, Dudamel showed that, despite his championing of modern music, he is a diehard romantic. He managed to take perhaps the most often performed of the Brahms symphonies, and one he has himself conducted many times, and give us a fresh and joyous performance that felt like a release from the first half. Principal Horn Andrew Bain’s sound, especially in the coda of the first movement, was strong yet sweet. Indeed, the entire orchestra played freely and happily, as if they were kids who had been let out of school for the summer.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

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