I watched *Icons on Inspiration,* an online fundraiser by the Los Angeles Philharmonic on March 7, 2021 (it was dropped online in February). The LA Phil did a concert series called SoundStage over the summer and fall, which was without a doubt the best programming I had seen online during the pandemic. It was brilliant beyond measure, every aspect of the series was so beautitfully thought out for the online format.
The program opened with “Starburst” by Jessie Montgomery, a contemporary composer who had been highlighted during the summer series. It was for strings only and I loved it, it was so exciting and involving. The ideas were varied, the textures were rich, I look forward to hearing more from this composer. As in the SoundStage series, the concert was performed at the gorgeous empty Hollywood Bowl. Here's the Minnesota Orchestra playing the piece:
The concert was hosted and conducted by their music director, Gustavo Dudamel. They interspersed the musical performances with Zoom interviews with various people, and his first guest was Common. He asked Common to talk about inspiration. Common said, “I pray that my music and art can be inspiring.” They made a smooth segue into the next piece of music - - Common said that one of his greatest inspirations was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the orchestra played “Martin Luther King” from *Three Kings* by Duke Ellington, arranged by Terrence Blanchard. It was sweet, I liked it, but for me it lacked the complexity and intellect of the best Ellington.
Dudamel’s next guest was Katy Perry. They talked about when they first met, which was four years before in, of all places, Buenos Aires. She was in BA and heard that the LA Phil was playing a concert and she thought, even though she didn’t have much experience with or interest in classical music, why not check it out? And she was blown away. One of the pieces the orchestra played in BA was “Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato” by Tchaikovsky, which they played again on this concert. It was a super cute piece with a few surprises - - it opened, as you would expect, with a lot of playful pizzicato playing in the strings. I assumed it was a piece for strings alone, but then the oboe came in, followed by other woodwinds, and the brass, doing something unrelated. That went on for a while, the strings came back doing a repeat of what they had done before, and the piece ended with the strings and winds alternating, then playing together. It was darling.
Natalie Portman chose the next piece, the Berceuse from *The Firebird* by Stravinsky. He asked her why she loved that piece, and she said that to her, it sounds like movie music, probably because so many movie composers were inspired by Stravinsky. She said this particular piece has an involving mixture of romance and horror. And oh dear Lord, the opening of the Stravinsky had me in tears, it’s so full of longing, tenderness, transcendent beauty. I think I need to put *The Firebird* on my short list of ballets I need to see.
Dudamel spoke with pianist Yuja Wang. She talked about what inspired her in the piece that she chose to play, “Danzón No 2” by Arturo Márquez. She loved the dance aspect of the piece and wished that she could dance like the music dances. She played the Márquez, a piece for piano alone, and it was poignant seeing her alone on the stage of the Hollywood Bowl. This performance, unlike most of the other performances on the concert, was filmed at night, which added to the ambiance. Her playing was vibrant, full of color, and (to use the key word) inspired.
Dudamel’s next guest was someone I’d never heard of, Colombian singer-songwriter Carlos Vives. It was such a treat to hear the two of them speaking in Spanish, talking about Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Romero. The orchestra played Romero’s “Fuga con Pajarillo,” a fugue that was full of drama. This piece was for strings only, and the LA Phil musicians were interspersed with players from YOLA, the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles. It was easy to spot them because they were wearing YOLA T-shirts.
Dudamel had a Zoom conversation with three members of YOLA. One of the musicians talked about how it’s always a thrill and an honor to play with the LA Phil, but it has a bigger impact and meaning during the pandemic. Dudamel said that the YOLA musicians inspire them, the members of the orchestra. That was touching.
Dudamel’s last guest was the one and only Julie Andrews. He asked her to talk about the purpose of music, and she said that music is a universal language that crosses boundaries, and that singing with a big orchestra was one of the greatest joys of her life. They talked about Gustav Mahler and the humanity that’s needed to play Mahler. She ended by paraphrasing a quote by Katherine Anne Porter. Thanks to Google, I will quote it directly:
“The arts do live continuously, and they live literally by faith; their names and their shapes and their uses and their basic meanings survive unchanged in all that matters through times of interruption, diminishment, neglect; they outlive governments and creeds and the societies, even the very civilization that produced them. They cannot be destroyed altogether because they represent the substance of faith and the only reality. They are what we find again when the ruins are cleared away.”
Members of the LA Phil played the final movement of Mahler’s 4th Symphony, “Das himmlische Leben,” with soprano Liv Redpath. They played a chamber arrangement by Erwin Stein, which confused me a bit - - why not have the whole orchestra? Redpath sounded great. This is a piece that could be sung by either a soprano or a mezzo, it lies in between with the two voice parts, and she has a lovely richness and ease in her lower range. Her singing was delicious.
They ended the concert with a piece by Venezuelan composer Pedro Elias Gutiérrez, “Alma Llanera,” Soul of the Plain (arranged by Lev Zhurbin). Dudamel said that it’s traditional in Venezuela to sing this song at the end of a party, and the LA Phil captured that celebratory quality.