Los Angeles Philharmonic Sound Stage series, second season
"The Carnival of the Animals"
The second season of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Sound Stage series opened with artistic director Gustavo Dudamel and his adorable nine-year old son Martin. The orchestra played Camille Saint-Saëns’s *Carnival of the Animals* and many of the movements of the piece were preceded by short animated films, telling stories about the animal featured in the following movement. The first season of the Sound Stage series was probably the best thing I saw online during the pandemic, it was so thoughtfully put together, so obviously formulated for the online format. These animated interludes were a perfect example of their thoughtful programming.
The piece was played by the LA Phil with Yuja Wang and David Fung playing the solo piano parts. Such beautiful music! I thought of a few French words: “élan,” “panache,” “frisson.” I had never heard the whole piece before and was quite taken with it. I’d heard a few of the movements before: “Aquarium” comes on at 13:88, you might recognize that.
“The Swan” might be better known to me as “The Dying Swan,” a ballet solo choreographed by Mikhail Fokine in 1905 for Anna Pavlova. According to Wikipedia (and why would they lie?), she did “some 4,000 performances of the dance and ‘swept the world.’” But let’s be clear: Saint-Saëns did not visualize the swan dying, it was just swimming. Fokine added the manic wing flappings of death. I'll give you two versions - - first, a "straight" version, danced by Royal Ballet star Natalia Osipova:
The orchestra was full of sparkle and color and the pianists did a fascinating job of being in the forefront at times but being in the ensemble at other times. “The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods” was my favorite movement, it was scored for the two pianists and solo clarinet. Fascinating, haunting, more than a whiff of Messaien. That happens at 16:40.
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"A Pan-American Musical Feast"
The second episode was called “A Pan-American Musical Feast.” It opened with “Fanfaria” by Tania León, an exciting short piece for brass and percussion. Moments in it were thrillingly messy, with a number of trumpets going OFF. That’ll get your blood movin’.
Dudamel had a conversation with chef and philanthropist José Andrés about how music, food, the other arts inform us as people and as a culture. Andrés said that cooking is made out of ingredients and technique but when it comes down to it, it’s made out of people.
The orchestra played the fourth movement (“Bananera”) of Paul Desenne’s *Sinfonía Burocrática ed’Amazzónica.* Music as tasty and rhythmic as its title. I’d never heard of this guy, I need to check him out.
They played Copland’s *Appalachian Spring* suite, such a masterpiece. They brought out all of the moods in the piece: dreamy, lyrical, vigorous, sturdy, resplendent. This piece is played a lot and it’s easy to see why.
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“Easter Sunrise Service at Hollywood Bowl”
They opened with “Air pour les trompettes” by JS Bach, arranged by Allen. Allen who? More details please. What a darling piece, those trumpet players really nailed it, and some nice licks by a French horn player on the side. Oh, and a nice little trombone lick at the end.
Dudamel gave the historical context to the concert: the LA Phil played their first concert at the site which would be the Hollywood Bowl on Easter Sunday 1921, 100 years before. Wonderful.
The next piece on the program was soprano Nadine Sierra singing Mozart’s old warhorse, *Exsultate, jubilate.* I thought her voice sounded a little thick and lugubrious at first but was relieved to her lighten up when she had to, to get through the rapid passages with the little notes. That sounded to me like her true voice, her voice sounded rich and creamy but not falsely dark.
Dudamel and Sierra took the middle movement, the slow movement, at an unusually spritely tempo. Not too fast, but a bit more spring in the step than I’m used to. She sounded fantastic in this movement. Another tempo surprise, the final movement was a smidge slower than I’ve heard it. Not too slow, but more leisurely than I’m used to.
The concert ended with the gospel duo Mary Mary singing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’s Name,” a hymn that was sung in that first concert a hundred years ago (the arrangement for this performance was by Carlos Simon). The two singers had lovely voices and sounded great together but their noodling was often not to my taste. I love me some gospel noodling, but I like how Patti La Belle does it, not how Mariah Carey does it. I’m just sayin’.