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:
And a comic version by Ida Nevasayneva (say it out loud) with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo:
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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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.