News flash: Where you hear music affects how you hear music.
On the website NewMusicBox, editor Frank J. Oteri recently posted about his experience trekking from NYC all the way to Albany (well, Rensselaer actually since he was on Amtrak) to hear the Albany Symphony Orchestra in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The splendor of the building and the renowned acoustics impressed him, while the names on the ceiling and on the ticket stubs concerned him. Worth a read: The Names on the Ceiling.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a concert of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the sparkly, Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was my third time there, but still a thrill. And despite my jet lag and general travel fatigue, the very notion of hearing a major orchestra in big city on another coast pricked up my ears.
Gustavo Dudamel was on the podium but he wasn’t as showy as the last time I heard him, when he conducted music of Adams, Bernstein and Beethoven. His more subdued manner was probably a nature result of a more traditional program – Wagner, Brahms and Schumann. Also, it was a Thursday night (February 21), the first performance of the three-concert run in the middle of his fourth season as music director. So in a sense, conductor and orchestra were simply doing business, if still at a plenty high level.
When I heard Dudamel two years ago, the whole program was about rhythm. The John Adams overture (does it matter which one?), Bernstein’s “Jeremiah” Symphony and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony all charge forward like trains on a track. In contrast, this concert was more sea faring. The opener was the Death and Funeral Music from “Gotterdammerung” and after intermission came Schumann’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 97 “Rhenish.” Together, they made for a nice book-ending of Teutonic aquatic works. Somewhere during the Schumann, I thought about the waves and spikes on the outside of the famous building.
In between came the Brahms Violin Concerto with soloist Gil Shaham. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the familiar concerto in quiet the same way. The interpretation was straight forward enough, but the acoustics of the hall gave a rare sense of depth and three-dimensionality to the piece. I mostly think of hearing the piece at SPAC, where it arrives like everything else in a frontal assault. At Disney Hall, I was seated in a side gallery close enough to almost be above the stage. Maybe this explains the new perspective I had on the piece and my greater awareness of the interplay within the orchestra. Yet I think the space itself gives a rare physicality to the orchestra’s sound. Let’s also give due credit to Dudamel and Shaham, though. They showed a fine chemistry and practically bowed and scraped to each other during the many curtain calls.
One thing about Shaham though is that he sure does move around a lot onstage. That’s something I’ve observed from him at SPAC as well. Sometimes he seems close enough to the podium to smell the conductor’s breath while a moment or two later, he’s almost joining the first violin section. This can be impish and engaging. But at this concert and in this hall, he turned his body this way and that so often that it affected the sound, sometimes from one phrase to the next. But I’ll take liveliness over dutifulness any day. And I’ll jump at another opportunity to take in Dudamel and the L.A. Phil any day.