Compared with some other art forms music is emerging from the coronavirus lockdowns with clear signs of life. Unlike theatre or opera, a concert does not depend on a run of performances and many concert halls and orchestras around the world are managing to find sufficient sponsorship to transfer activities online.
The challenge now is how to stand out from the crowd. At the Los Angeles Philharmonic the answer comes in a series of short concerts, filmed at the Hollywood Bowl and given additional resonance with supplementary material such as essays, interviews and artists’ playlists. The sometimes arty filming does not generally add much.
When the pandemic hit, music director Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Phil were in the middle of a festival called “Power to the People!” that embraced music as diverse as rap, gospel and jazz. The aim of reaching out to a wide cross-section of the community has carried through into the “Sound/Stage” series.
The nine episodes of this first series are being released weekly, and are available to view free of charge on the LA Phil website. Six will feature classical music, while the other three include jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington and LA-based band Chicano Batman, as well as Andra Day performing one of the unofficial anthems of the Black Lives Matter movement, “Rise Up”.
Following a template already set by other orchestras, the LA Phil kicks off with a half-hour programme of shorter items that will not challenge the attention span. Called “Love in the time of Covid”, this first episode should win converts quickly.
Dudamel has established his frame of reference from the outset. The concert opens with a Latin American flavour in “Amor mío, si muero y tú no mueras”, the last of Peter Lieberson's Neruda Songs. Pablo Neruda’s poem is read first by María Valverde, Spanish actress and Dudamel’s wife, and then Lieberson’s melancholy song follows, beautifully sung by J’Nai Bridges. Lieberson wrote this deeply moving cycle for his late wife, the great mezzo Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and it was first performed by her and the LA Phil. The only disappointment is that we do not get the other songs.
That is followed by the bittersweet Lyric for strings by African-American George Walker, also heard recently during the Bard Music Festival’s focus on black composers. Then the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, luxuriantly played by Dudamel and the LA Phil strings, ends a short but rewardingly romantic programme.
The second Sound/Stage concert is a more straightforward affair. “Salón Los Angeles” opens with a pair of dancing couples, setting the scene for Danzón No. 1 by Arturo Márquez, who is also the subject of an interview in the bonus material. Then Jean-Yves Thibaudet gets in an appropriately colourful mood, with blue jacket and brilliant matching socks (a Thibaudet trademark), as solo pianist for a full-blooded performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
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