A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

On Sunday, you could have enjoyed a nice, crisp fall day in Los Angeles, or you could have been inside the iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall to hear one of the most electrifying concerts of the season, literally and figuratively.

The exciting young American conductor Roderick Cox led the LA Phil in a concert of three engaging compositions: The Insects Became Magnetic by the young American composer Christopher Cerrone and two French masterpieces for orchestra and organ, the Concerto in G minor for Organ, Strings and Timpani by Francis Poulenc and the Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78 by Camille Saint-Saëns, “Organ,” with the equally exciting young American organist Cameron Carpenter as soloist.

The concert opened with the world premiere and LA Phil commission of Cerrone’s The Insects Became Magnetic. The piece began eerily with electronic sounds through speakers placed on both sides as well as above the stage controlled by Cerrone with a Macbook sitting behind the second violins. The electronic sounds were joined by percussionists playing the vibraphone with bows. These were then joined by shimmering string tremolos and the rest of the orchestra. Even though Cerrone’s composition used the orchestra to supplement and extend the electronic sounds, there were signs of a traditional composition with crescendos and decrescendos and the sonata form with an exposition, development and recapitulation. Overall, the piece created an eerie and mysterious atmosphere that was quite engaging. Cox appeared as if a magician pulling sounds from the most unlikely of places, including, at one time, all of the brass playing harmonicas.

The second half concluded with the Poulenc, a dramatic concerto that combines the baroque organ sounds of Bach and Buxtehude with the style for which Poulenc is known. One can even hear the sounds of the French accordion at times. Carpenter played the organ parts with the flair for which he is known, playing on all four keyboards—sometimes with one hand playing on two keyboards at once—of the WDCH organ while simultaneously pushing and pulling the stops. The accompanying strings and timpani, though played to perfection by the Phil string players and timpanist Jeff Grant, were no match for the thunderous organ; but then again, it’s all about the organ anyway. Carpenter was called out for an encore, and he took it up several notches with the Bach Fugue in G minor. It was a sight to see both hands flying up and down the keyboards and his two feet dancing along the bass pedals. That performance brought the crowd to their feet for an extended ovation.

The second half consisted of the Saint-Saëns symphony. It is a crowd pleaser no matter who plays it, although Cox (conducting without a score), Carpenter and the LA Phil let out all the stops (no pun intended). Cox massaged the dynamics for maximum effect: the fortissimos were very loud, and the pianissimos were very quiet. Cox is a big man, so it was all the more impressive that he was able to have the orchestra play so quietly and delicately. But when the score called for it, Cox appeared as if he were throwing thunderbolts at the orchestra. The majestic conclusion is the kind of sonic experience one wants in Disney Hall, and the crowd showed its appreciation with an immediate standing ovation for the young conductor, the orchestra and, indirectly, for the hall itself and, of course, Saint-Saëns’ symphony.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

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