February 20, 2011

MUSIC: LA Philharmonic, February 20 (Smetana/Schumann/Dvořák)

Lionel Bringuier, conductor; Gautier Capuçon, cello

The program:
  • Smetana, The Moldau
  • Schumann, Cello Concerto
  • Dvořák, Symphony #5
I don't know that I have anything particularly interesting to say about today's music, but the performances were skillful and entertaining; the scherzo and finale of the Dvořák were particularly delightful, with lots of charming passages for the winds and some terrific showy moments for the brass.

It was a concert led by very young men. The cello soloist, Gautier Capuçon, is 29, and conductor Lionel Bringuier is only 24 (and already in his 4th season as the Philharmonic's Associate Conductor).

Watching Bringuier conduct is a very different experience from watching Gustavo Dudamel. Dudamel is a larger than life figure, exploding so powerfully with energy that it seems the podium can barely contain him. His gestures are large and sweeping; you feel as if he's trying to physically push the emotion into the musicians. Bringuier, is more understated; his gestures are more compact and efficient, no bigger than necessary. He moves with supple grace; his arms have such fluidity that he sometimes seems to have no elbows.

To be sure, part of the difference is in the repertoire I've seen each man conduct; today's program doesn't call for the sort of overheated passion that the Turangalila requires. And Bringuier's calmer style doesn't keep him from getting thrilling moments out of the orchestra; the passage in The Moldau that's meant to depict the Rapids of St. John was tremendously exciting, and the Dvořák finale was a rousing crowd-pleaser.

This was certainly the warhorsiest concert I've attended in a long time, and that in itself was interesting; it helped me to clarify why it is that I enjoy more unusual and contemporary music.

I don't specifically remember hearing any of the specific pieces on today's program before, but the harmonic and musical language is very familiar to me. I enjoyed the music, but was rarely surprised by it. Its pleasures are, for me at least, smaller -- a delightful melody, an unexpected moment in the spotlight for the clarinets, a thrilling climax. That has its own appeal, and I find it very comforting.

But newer music is more likely to surprise me with novel combinations of instruments, surprising harmonic progressions, unusual timbres, and given the choice between comfort and surprise, I'll usually prefer surprise.

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