And so the Philharmonic season ended, not with a whimper but with several bangs.
The final subscription concert, Thursday night at the Music Center, drew only a
small crowd; perhaps anything would be an anticlimax after the Salonen weeks.
Those who showed up were well rewarded, however.
John Nelson was the conductor, replacing the scheduled Neeme Jarvi; Peter
Frankl was the soloist, replacing the scheduled Zoltan Kocsis. The program
began with Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question,” replacing the scheduled
work by Eduard Tubin. Otherwise, there was the Bartok Second Piano Concerto and
the Dvorak Sixth Symphony, as scheduled.
Nelson, an old friend from the Cabrillo Festival as well as several Hollywood
Bowl appearances, is a practiced hand with an orchestra. Still, whoever dreamed
up the Ives as a concert opener must live on another planet. Four flutes
constituted the stage contingent; a small string ensemble played, pianissimo,
backstage; solo trumpeter Donald Green was somewhere in the loges — all
according to Ives’ plan in this haunting, nocturnal essay.
Yes, but… It took at least a minute, out of the work’s total of five, for the
people out front to realize the music had begun. The ushers slammed doors shut
during the music; the audience made the noises that Thursday night subscription
audiences usually make. This was listed as the work’s first hearing at a
Philharmonic concert, but it remains unheard.
Peter Frankl’s stunning traversal of the Bartok was thoroughly audible,
however: a big, rawboned, dazzling performance of some of the most difficult
piano music on this planet. What a work this is: the slithery, shimmering
scoring in the quiet moments, the thrilling moments when piano and orchestra
are transformed into some kind of super-drum. This performance was worthy of
the music, and then some.
Then came the delicious, rambunctious, lovable Dvorak, the perfect symphony for
a May evening. Elliott Carter once wrote of “Dvorak fans” as the “little
folk in the hills,” and Carter can go climb a tree. There is a special
grandeur in this music; it takes patience (especially as Nelson chose to
observe each and every one of the optional repeats) and it rewards patience.
Nelson was inspired to allot an extra mini-second or two to give the grand,
discursive themes plenty of breathing space, and it all worked. A lovely
ending, to a mostly splendid season.