Tuesday, July 16

Sparks fly in Salonen’s vivacious return to L.A. Philharmonic

Sparks fly in Salonen’s vivacious return to L.A.

By John Mangum

Daily Bruin Staff

Sparks flew Wednesday night when Esa-Pekka Salonen returned to
the Music Center to conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

After more than a month’s absence, Salonen, the Philharmonic’s
Music Director, led the orchestra in a program of two masterpieces
from the early 20th century. They repeat the program Saturday
evening and Sunday afternoon.

The evening’s first half featured the Violin Concerto No. 1 by
Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. The work left a strong
impression, creating a hypnotic atmosphere.

No doubt this can be attributed to Szymanowski’s felicitous
orchestration and a violin part which floats in and out of the
colorful mist only adding to the surrealism of the piece. The work
was magnificently realized by the Philharmonic and soloist
Alexander Treger, a professor of violin at UCLA.

Treger stepped out of his usual role as the orchestra’s
concertmaster to coax beautiful sounds from his violin. The
orchestra played no less radiantly, brining out the color and the
fleeting rambunctiousness of the work.

The second half of the program featured a complete performance
of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet "The Firebird." The ballet, based on a
Russian folk tale, tells the story of how Ivan Tsarevitch and the
magical Firebird triumph over Kastchei the Immortal and his

The action moves from a dark forest through an enchanted garden
and evil fortress, featuring a vast array of characters ranging
from princesses to ghoulish monsters.

Given the inspiring subject matter, Stravinsky orchestrated
perhaps with even more color than Szymanowski, but for a different
reason. Where Szymanowski’s sound world is like a glowing aural
fog, Stravinsky’s is highly charged and dramatic.

Drama comprised a key aspect of Salonen’s interpretation of the
score. For example, trumpets hidden in openings in the walls about
20 feet above the ground on either side of the audience played key
portions of the score to heighten the tension.

Salonen’s mastery of Stravinsky’s music revealed itself fully
with the ballet’s opening notes. The four-note figure played by the
cellos and double-basses was crisply articulated, making it easy
for the audience to identify when it popped up later on in the

Such an interpretation would not have been possible without the
flawless playing of the Philharmonic. The strings shimmered through
"The Firebird’s entreaties" and the playful trumpets were a delight
during "The princesses’ game with the golden apples."

Knife-edged precision made the "Infernal dance of Kastchei’s
subjects" a thrilling climax in what proved to be an electrifying
evening. The audience acknowledged this with their own powerful
standing ovation shot through with roars of approval.

CONCERT: L.A. Philharmonic conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen in
music by Szymanowski and Stravinsky. At the Dorothy Chandler
Pavilion April 15 at 8 p.m. and April 16 at 2:30 p.m. TIX: $6 (for
students two hours prior to curtain) to $50. For more info call
(213) 850-2000.

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