Sunday, March 11, 2007

The LA Philharmonic at Disney Hall

I drove to my friend Sara's as she had an extra ticket for the LA Philharmonic matinee concert Saturday, and then drove both of us downtown to the Disney Hall--of course, driving is a convenience. Sara and I bought like to take the bus or subway as much as possible, but I was running late, so I drove--a "convenience" that spews carbon dioxide in the air.

We walked around the outskirts of the Disney Hall--a very beautiful sculptural building. Then into our lobby and then our seats right behind the orchestra way up high, but I loved our seats because we could really look down at the different musicians, watching them play from out seats up in Paradise. The French movie Children of Paradise said that those who have seats high up in the theater are in paradise--as we were. For a large concert hall the Disney Hall seems intimate and well as spectacular.

Leonard Slatkin was conducting, and his hands did an elegant choreography to the music. The first piece was late 20th century Steven Reich's "Triple Quartet. This is the first time I've heard a Reich piece. His "Triple Quarter" had three triangles of 12 string musicians playing on the stage repetitions of rhythms interspersed with Eastern European Jewish melodies. The second piece was Franz Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat with Yundi Li, a young award-winning Chinese pianist who gave a dramatic performance.

After the intermission the Los Angeles Philharmonic played Gustav Holst's The Planets. Though I'm familiar with the piece, I knew little about Holst. He's English, and oddly combines a fascination with Hindu spirituality and a love of traditional English folksong. He started composing The Planets in 1914 right before World War I started. Though the program notes say the piece isn't about war, I think it as, as it starts with "Mars, the bringer of war," a very aggressive opener with violins marking a beat like soldiers' foots, then booming drums and trumpets. "Mars" really does evoke all the aggressive rhythms of war.

After 'Mars" comes "Venus, the Bringer of Peace," which is gentle and sensuous, with a solo violin and harp. Next comes "Mercury, the Winger Messenger;" just as Mercury is the quick moving messenger of the gods, the music has a solo violin, a form of piano called a celesta, and a two harps as well as the orchestra do faster rhythms. "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music, with this great sonorous melody repeated by different sections of the orchestra--it was just wonderful to listen to "Jupiter" not on record but with a terrific orchestra. Next come the sad "Saturn, Bringer the Old Age," which has both a solemn sadness, an angry clashing protest against old age, and then a peaceful acceptance. "Uranus, the Magician" has that wild energy of other pieces evoking sorcerers.

The last section of The Planets is "Neptune the Mystic" where Holst and the LA Philharmonic capture the peaceful mysticism. The Pacific Women's Choir song the wordless mystical sounds, but as the orchestra played the choir was nowhere to be seen. Where were they? Their beautiful singing seemed to emerge from underneath the stage, so I thought maybe they were below stage, but the effect of the music floating off from nowhere was wonderful.

Sara said she felt richly fed after the concert. So did I. The Disney Hall, the LA Philharmonic's playing, the conductor Leonard Slatkin, the soloist Yundi Li, the program which encompassed 150 years of music--all were terrific. I just wished the Disney Hall were next door to a subway stop, so we could take the marvelous subway home.

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