A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

On Saturday night, the Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov conducted the LA Phil in a single work, the monumental Symphony No. 8 in C minor by Anton Bruckner.

As one would expect for a symphony with which many people are still not familiar, and with an approximate running time of 80 minutes, Disney Hall was not packed. In fact, no seats were sold in the upper sections and there were quite a few empty seats throughout the hall, which unfortunately increased during both the 25-minute-long third and fourth movements.

However, those who did not brave the work or who left during the performance missed out on one of the monumental achievements in Western music, both sonically and compositionally. We have discussed the symphony and its composer in a previous review (https://culturespotla.com/2010/01/maazel’s-bruckner/), and will concentrate in the present review only on this performance.

It is almost impossible for a conductor, especially of Bychkov’s stature, and a world-class orchestra like the LA Phil not to give an impressive performance of this symphony because the work itself is so awe-inspiring, and this was true on Saturday night. Except for a few little personal touches (a ritardando here and there), Bychkov played the work pretty true to form.

Bychkov began the symphony a little louder and faster than the score calls for, which gave the impression that he was kind of dropping in on the work already in progress. On the other hand, compared to the fortissimos in the symphony, perhaps Bychkov’s pianissimo was true.

The Bruckner Eighth is an extremely demanding work. There are some particularly formidable passages, especially for the horns, brass and winds, and the LA Phil met every challenge admirably. Principal Horn Andrew Bain played with particular warmth during his several brief solos. In fact, all the horn players, some of whom doubled on Wagner tubas, were outstanding. Kudos also go out to Principal Flutist Julien Beaudiment, Principal Oboist Ariana Ghez and Principal Clarinetist Michele Zukovsky, as well as the entire brass section.

One of the most challenging aspects of the Bruckner Eighth is the many fortissimo sections that require an immediate cessation of playing after the passage. For example, toward the end of the first movement, the horns and trumpets play fortissimo in unison for three measures and then must stop on a dime (a quarter note actually), which can’t be easy to do.

Hearing a symphony like the Bruckner Eighth is an event, but it is not for the impatient. For this work, patience is a virtue that is rewarded by hearing some of the most glorious music ever written for orchestra.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

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