L.A. Phil Mixes It Up With Famous Finns,
New Works and a Glimpse of the Future
by Julie Riggott
Bigger is better when it comes to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
“One of the things that I’ve noticed about working with Esa-Pekka [Salonen] is that ideas can’t be big enough,” said Chad Smith, who as vice president of artistic planning interprets and implements the music director’s vision for the Phil.
The new season brings a variety of programming. After the gala opening night with celebrity soprano Renée Fleming on Thursday, Oct. 4, the Phil has three festivals featuring orchestral works complemented by new music, symposia and other events: Sibelius Unbound, the International Youth Orchestra Festival and Concrete Frequency.
“We have to scale our projects bigger. Our audiences expect it, the city expects it, our orchestra expects it, and, indeed, Esa-Pekka expects it,” Smith said.
The season kicks off this Thursday with a program of French and Italian music by Ravel, Berlioz and Puccini, with Salonen conducting and Fleming making her Walt Disney Concert Hall debut. It is followed by a party that will shut down Grand Avenue for dinner and dancing. The pricey soiree (tickets run $1,500-$10,000) benefits the Musicians Pension Fund, concerts and educational and community outreach programs. Last year’s event raised more than $1 million. According to Phil Public Relations Director Adam Crane, the gala is one of the orchestra’s two biggest fundraisers of the year (the other is opening night at the Hollywood Bowl), and past events have attracted celebrities such as Sidney Poitier, Jamie Lee Curtis and Liza Minelli.
Sibelius Unbound, which runs Oct. 12-26, features Salonen conducting the entire cycle of Sibelius symphonies. It also raises a question: Why did it take so long for Finland’s most famous conductor to take on Finland’s most celebrated composer?
He bought and read the score. “Suddenly it was very clear to me that this music had dimensions I had not seen at all before. I had to admit that I had only seen the surface and failed to recognize the true originality and power of Sibelius,” he wrote.
Contemporary works influenced by Sibelius are also part of the festival. Salonen will conduct his own “Wing on Wing” and the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky’s “Radical Light.” Stucky, who celebrates 20 years as the Phil’s New Music Advisor and Consulting Composer for New Music, said the piece was inspired by Sibelius’ Symphony No. 7.
“When I was a kid, Sibelius was very much out of fashion in this country and others, and unfortunately I fell for this mistake,” Stucky said. “Later, when I was a young college teacher, one of my students insisted on doing a whole semester study of the Sibelius Fourth, and the scales fell from my eyes – better late than never. The degree of originality, individuality, technical control and architectural mastery in this music is now a big source of inspiration for me.”
Other new music continues the Finnish theme, with pieces by Kaija Saariaho, who was a fellow avant-garde student with Salonen at the Sibelius Academy. Two of her compositions will feature a video/film element in the Green Umbrella series, the Phil’s program of new music.
Smith said the response to the series, now in its 20th year, has been overwhelmingly positive. “The Green Umbrella series is extraordinary. On a regular basis, we have 1,500 or 1,600 people coming to hear the newest of the new, just as the ink is drying on the page,” he said.
Both Finland’s and Venezuela’s youth orchestras are world-class, products of two of the most progressive music education systems in the world. Each orchestra will give free neighborhood concerts after their performances at Disney Hall as part of the International Youth Orchestra Festival (through Nov. 11).
Also on the bill this season is an Oct. 29 music education symposium with participants including Salonen, Dudamel and theater/opera director Peter Sellars.
“Education is central to the mission of the L.A. Philharmonic,” Smith explained. “We feel that we can’t do enough to get classical music out into our community, out into the schools and out into the lives of people who perhaps don’t normally think that they have access to the L.A. Philharmonic.”
The season continues in a similarly big way, bringing numerous celebrity artists and conductors, including pianist András Schiff (Oct. 10 and 17) performing a cycle of Beethoven sonatas that continues next season, and Itzhak Perlman conducting Brahms, Mozart and Bach (Feb. 1-3, 2008). And true to its reputation as America’s most experimental orchestra, the Philharmonic promises a few surprises with its Jan. 4-13 festival Concrete Frequency, which Smith described as “aggressive” and “edgy.” Orchestral music focusing on the urban environment will be mixed with a film festival, alternative music and popular forms of music such as rap, hip-hop and electronica, said Smith.
Smith wrapped up the seemingly infinite programming in three big words: “It’s about excellence, innovation and collaboration – everything that we do.”
The Los Angeles Philharmonic performs at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., (323) 850-2000 or laphil.com.
L.A. Phil at a Glance
Highlights of the Fall Schedule
- Oct. 4: The L.A. Phil’s opening gala starts with a reception at 6 p.m. The concert at 7 p.m. will feature Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting and soprano Renée Fleming in a program of French and Italian favorites, including pieces by Berlioz, Ravel and Puccini. A French soiree with dinner by Joachim Splichal follows on Grand Avenue.
- Oct. 5-7: Bach/Berio’s Contrapunctus XIX, Strauss’ “Metamorphosen” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7.
- Oct. 12-26: Sibelius Unbound features all seven symphonies by the Finnish composer as well as works inspired by them. Concerts include Salonen’s “Wing on Wing” and Sibelius’ “Lemminkainen’s Return” and Symphony No. 2 (Oct. 12-14); Steven Stucky’s “Radical Light” and Sibelius’ Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 (Oct. 18-19); Sibelius’ “Pohjola’s Daughter” and Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 (Oct. 20-21); and Sibelius’ Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 and songs with tenor Ben Heppner (Oct. 25-26).
- Oct. 28: As part of the World Music Series, Disney Hall architect Frank Gehry transforms the stage into a taverna for a performance by Portuguese fado singer Mariza.Oct. 31: Visiting organist Clark Wilson plays in a Halloween event featuring the silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.Nov. 1-2: Gustavo Dudamel leads his Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela in Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 (Nov. 1) and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 (Nov. 2).
Nov. 8: Charles Dutoit conducts the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra with famed pianist Martha Argerich.
Nov. 11: Four Los Angeles-based youth orchestras perform for free.
Dec. 13-16: The always popular Zubin Mehta returns to Downtown Los Angeles to perform Strauss’ “Symphonic domestica” and works by Beethoven and Webern.
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