April 07, 2013

MUSIC: LA Philharmonic, April 7

David Robertson, conductor
Orli Shaham, piano

The program:
  • Britten: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes
  • Mackey: Stumble to Grace
  • Mussorgsky/Ravel: Pictures at an Exhibition
Unfortunately, I had to leave today's concert at intermission, so didn't get to hear the Pictures at an Exhibition, but the first half of the concert was quite delightful.

David Robertson conducted, and the program opened with Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, which were full of glorious orchestral color. As is so often the case with the Phil, the horns made a particularly fine impression. Robertson played the Interludes without pause between them, which made the mood shifts between them feel uncomfortably abrupt.

The new work on today's program was Steven Mackey's piano concerto Stumble Into Grace; the soloist was Orli Shaham, who happens to be Robertson's wife. Mackey and the Robertson-Shahams happen to have children of about the same age, and the overarching metaphor for the concerto was a child learning to walk, progressing from timid, tentative gestures at the beginning to full on virtuosity (a triple fugue, no less) at the end of the piece.

Mackey and Shaham took part in the pre-concert talk that the Philharmonic does before each concert. By "took part," I mean that the host introduced them, asked one question, and didn't say another word for twenty minutes as they completely charmed the audience with anecdotes about the piece's origin, tales of their friendship, and discussion of Mackey's musical influences in the piece. And those influences are wide-ranging; Mackey describes his cadenza as a Beethoven bagatelle filtered through Vince Guaraldi, and also mentioned Thelonious Monk and Andre Kostelanetz ("don't tell anyone, or my career will be over").

The concerto is a fine piece that I think would reward repeated hearing. The "Guaraldi bagatelle" cadenza has a lovely groove, and Mackey uses quarter-tones to interesting effect; the piece opens with a small group of string, who have been tuned slightly flat, making the piano's first clunky chords seem out of tune, and a few of the harp's strings are tuned either sharp or flat throughout.

It doesn't, I think, grab you as instantly as Mackey's violin concerto Beautiful Passing, which the Phil played a couple of years back, and which has been one of the highlights of my years of Philharmonic concerts. But to those companies who are still making CDs: They would make a delightful pairing, and a look at Mackey's list of works shows several pieces -- a cello concerto, a double concerto for violin and electric guitar -- of the right length to fill out the disc.

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