United States Mozart, Stravinsky, Beethoven: Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla (conductor), Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, CA. 1.3.2015 (LV)
Mozart: Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7, Op. 92
The Los Angeles Philharmonic showcased two conductors over the weekend who may prophesy the future of the classical music industry. I was not able to hear Susanna Mällki conduct Unsuk Chin’s opera, Alice in Wonderland, in two sold-out nights at Walt Disney Concert Hall, but I interviewed Mällki last fall (which can be read here).
But I did see Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, the Philharmonic’s new Assistant Conductor, who led a similarly packed Disney Hall performance of her own on Sunday afternoon. The composers were Mozart, Stravinsky and Beethoven, and the vibrant, youthful crowd went wild.
When Gražinytė-Tyla (who resembles a young Tea Leoni) ran out onto stage, she smiled at the audience and hopped onto the podium as if she were Dorothy returning from Oz, she sealed the deal even before the orchestra played a note.
After bowing modestly but radiantly, and shaking hands with concertmaster Martin Chalifour, Gražinytė-Tyla launched her forces into Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio overture at such a deliriously fast clip that the audience’s breath was immediately taken away. Mozart’s touching brief songs and dialogues in the woodwinds, led by principal flutist Julien Beaudiment, were a particular delight.
The orchestra has been playing Stravinsky’s Petrushka since 1925, when Fritz Reiner conducted it during his Cincinnati Symphony days. The Los Angeles players have it in their DNA. So they played it for Gražinytė-Tyla with their customary virtuosity and engaging warmth; small children in the audience briefly laughed and clapped in response to two solo triangle taps and later, a chirping flute. The collective notion of narrative flow, as Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony would demonstrate later, was relatively uninflected, unlayered, with moderate speeds and dynamic range.
When the audience returned from a leisurely intermission, they were greeted by a miniature version of the Philharmonic they had seen in Petrushka. There were only 28 violins and violas, and a mere 6 cellos and 4 double basses, plus a few winds. Then, alone stage right, stood a pair of sleek timpani, crafted to recreate the violent sound Beethoven had in mind. Modern-art-museum-beautiful and kinetically dynamic, they seemed like exotic supercars at rest—more bongos than kettle drums.
As soon as the audience had settled in, Gražinytė-Tyla pushed with exuberance through their applause, rushed to the podium and before the musicians were completely ready, started up the Beethoven with a happy, relentless, metrical pace. Her upbeat, untroubled reading flowed breathlessly among all four movements. The Philharmonic played immaculately and in the first two movements, flutist Beaudiment put a carefree, Sunday afternoon stamp on the performance with some improvised appoggiaturas of curiously incongruous stylistic provenance. Also, whatever the experts thought, and despite some excellent playing, the double basses lacked visceral impact, even though they were nestled closely into to the rear of the cellos on the left hand part of the stage.
After Gražinytė-Tyla’s genial tempo for the Scherzo continued on in the same cheerful, lightly lyrical vein, complete with an extremely jaunty Trio, the Finale went like a turbo-charged electric racing machine; every note was clear and clean, especially a series of brutal explosions by the timpani. It was a collaborative effort that explained what some professionals mean when they describe the highest conducting virtue, “She let the orchestra play by itself.”