Two veterans of the local battlefields have been back among us these weeks. Zubin Mehta is currently here at his old stand, the Los Angeles Philharmonic podium; the first of his three programs here will be repeated this afternoon at the Music Center. Gerard Schwarz {cq}, who was never invited to the Philharmonic podium during his years as head of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, attained that podium for a pair of programs earlier this month. Neither of these conductors rank high in my personal pantheon, but that’s not the same as saying that their visits here were without interest. Schwarz, currently with the Seattle Symphony, has carved a small niche for himself as a proponent of American symphonic music from the recent past; his program here began with David Diamond’s Second Symphony, typical of the nuggets he has recently exhumed. Mehta’s program this past week began with a ghastly miscalculation not entirely his fault, but ended with some grand noise from the narrow repertory which he has come close to mastering. David Diamond is now 76. Thanks mostly to Schwarz’s efforts on his behalf, in concerts and on Delos Records, he seems to be enjoying a return to popularity — a reputation, you might say, for having a reputation. The Second Symphony dates from 1944, and was commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony. It was, and remains, Koussevitzky’s kind of music: sonorous, bland, academically correct. (By coincidence, there was more of Koussevitzky’s kind of music at the Music Center last week; more on this later.) The work’s history may be interesting, but the music is not. What can we learn today from this kind of tepid, derivative tone-spinning, in style midway between Sibelius and Vaughan Williams but with none of either composer’s profile? Here was more of what we were talking about last week: music dated from the moment of birth, desiccated beyond repair. On Schwarz’s program here there was also newer music, Lukas Foss’ Clarinet Concerto in its American premiere. Again the matter at hand was a string of derivative gestures, designed so that a talented soloist — Richard Stoltzman, in this case — could strike handsome poses at the end of each section. Foss — another local warrior from times past, from when he taught at UCLA — has spent a lifetime as the great almost-ran among composers: nibbling skilfully at one modish musical style after another, never quite turning his serendipitous skill into real music. The new concerto is more of the same. Mehta’s hobbyhorse on his first program was the Bruckner Eighth Symphony, and he rode it skilfully. No, it wasn’t the kind of performance to take the full measure of the work’s grandiosity, the flooding of naive but heartfelt emotion that can make the slow movement practically glow in the dark. It was, instead, a careful, meticulous performance, nicely balanced, loud enough at the end to convince the capacity crowd that angels had, indeed, passed overhead, but slack at times so that the endless, repetitive vulgarity of that final movement became, as usual, an exercise in listeners’ frustration. Before had come Midori and her not-so-magical violin, at 20 no longer dismissable as a precocious nymphet. So out of touch she was with her music — the wondrous Violin Concerto of Alban Berg — that this listener’s hand itched to spank not only this oversized child but also whatever concert management dreamed up the notion that she was ready (or would ever be ready) to play the score. LINE
Gidon {cq} Kremer, a violinist and enkindling musician of quite a different order, brought his German Chamber Philharmonic into the Music Center earlier this past week for two programs partly wonderful partly (to say the least) curious. The orchestra itself, Frankfurt-based, is a marvelous small ensemble, warm in tone and astounding in precision and balance. Kremer, a performer of genuine creative skills of a breed that hardly exists these days, endowed the programs with a thread of gold by performing all five of Mozart’s Violin Concertos, leading the orchestra from his soloist’s stand. But the first program also included two sizable works by Arthur Lourie; Kremer had also performed some of his music at his Royce Hall concerts last season. Why Lourie? He was a Russian-born composer (1892-1966) who emigrated here shortly after the Revolution and landed for a time in Boston, at the feet of the aforementioned Serge Koussevitzky. He wrote an adulatory, if not exactly accurate, biography of Koussevitzky who then — surely more out of gratitude than musical taste — performed lots of Lourie’s music. The Lourie pieces Kremer played and conducted (with high skill, needless to say) were bland little exercises in a mostly backward style that made one think of cafe orchestras behind potted palms and punctuating cries of “Hey, Waiter!” Yet here is Kremer, one of the great musical adventurers of our time, carrying around the music of Arthur Lourie as something aflame with seraphic majesty. You just never know. 1-line
Sian Edwards merits belated mention, the English lass who led the Philharmonic over Thanksgiving weekend and, thus, became only the second woman to lead the orchestra in a subscription concert. (Marin Alsop, the first, had only preceded her by two weeks.) Edwards is a real talent, although a strangely planned program partially did her in. It was strange, for example, to start with Ravel’s “Spanish Rhapsody,” a rousing concert-ending piece but here out of place. A rather tentative, colorless reading heightened that impression, as did the ensuing music, Peter Serkin’s show-offish performance of the Beethoven First Piano Concerto. But Edwards ended the program with a stunning reading of the Shostakovich Sixth Symphony, a work full of easy, rousing effects but full also of a dark profundity molded with a fine, dramatic hand. Edwards and the orchestra collaborated beautifully; this was major music-making.

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