A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Esa-Pekka Salonen / Photo courtesy of LA Phil

Esa-Pekka Salonen returned to the podium of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to continue the 10th-anniversary celebration concerts of the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall with the world premiere of Magnus Lindberg’s Cello Concerto No. 2 with Anssi Karttunen.

Conductor Laureate Salonen and the orchestra introduced their personal friends and repertoire friends to Disney Hall Oct. 18-20 (this performance was Saturday, Oct 19). His longtime colleagues, Lindberg and Karttunen, returned for this anniversary concert to premiere their new work that was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Anssi Karttunen / Photo courtesy of LA Phil

Lindberg’s LA Phil commission and his collaborations and kinship with Salonen came to fruition with his new cello concerto. He and Karttunen are close associates, and their music benefits from their long-term collaboration. Lindberg has gained a technical knowledge of the cello and insight into its complex voice. Add that to Karttunen’s elegant style and virtuosic skill to produce a magical sound, full of imagination and nuance. The orchestra was traditional and small, without percussion.  Its intensity derived from the occasional expressionist motifs mixed in with delightful tonal snippets. Themes would bounce back and forth between the orchestra and Karttunen, but the orchestral writing was relatively conventional in comparison to his endless variations of timbre and effect.

Bravo to Lindberg on a wonderful concerto! Bravo to Karttunen on a stirring performance!

Debussy’s Nocturnes and Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta framed Lindberg’s concerto in the sequence of the program. Salonen and the orchestra have serious experience with both the Debussy and the Bartók, having recorded them both on Sony Classics: Debussy’s Nocturnes in 1994 and Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta in 1996. This music was among their best repertoire back in the day. What a wonderful music it is today in Disney Hall — full of memories, full of life, and now magnified by the richness of this hall.

Grant Gershon and LA Master Chorale / Photo courtesy of LAMC

The Nocturnes were a sumptuous sample of lusciousness and blend, the result of perfect reverberation. The winds filled the room with their beautiful solo melodies of Nuages, while Concertmaster Martin Chalifour had the violins pianissimo in their highest registers. The dynamic swells and waves of energy made the strings irresistible. Their delicate pizzicato ending was crisp and finely articulated. Fetes was energetic; its presto was the heart of the piece. Sirenes featured the women of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, whose singing was superb, their voices forming almost another instrumental section of the ensemble. They would sing vowel sounds, very prosodic and alluring. Your attention was drawn to them. Well done!

Bartók’s orchestration calls for two string orchestras separated by the celesta and percussion, making it a good opportunity to sense how well spatial cues are preserved by acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota’s design. The separation and blend of the various sections within and between the two orchestras added an obvious depth to the sound. The delicate sound of the celesta radiated from the center with a soft chiming quality. The performance was most effective, clearly enhanced by the acoustical characteristics of the space.

Thanks for the memories, Maestro!

~Theodore Bell/Culture Spot LA

For a calendar of upcoming concerts, visit www.laphil.com.