THREE DAYS

IT WAS A FOREGONE CONCLUSION  that Mark. Swed and I would hear entirely different music at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night, under the title of the Philip Glass Violin Concerto; we acknowledged as much in our pre-concert greeting. The important point is that we can remain friends over such matters. My life in this criticking business has been punctuated by the sneers and snarls of those – you don’t want to know their names –who would ascribe deep motivations of evil intent  to those who seek to tread upon their artistic tastes or express opinions of their own.
   Mark’s encomium in today’s Times has the expected eloquence and dedication; if there are six (or sixty) recordings of Philip’s Violin Concerto I am sure he has heard them all and knows their differences by heart. Since I find sameness of musical discourse one of the work’s major earmarks, I share his awe that Martin Chalifour, the Philharmonic’s noble concertmaster and the soloist the other night, did indeed learn the concerto to play it by heart. 
    The Concerto, I will allow, is quite an astonishing work for all its emptiness. It moves forward with a lithe arrogance, offensive in its very assurance. I will grant its slow movement extra points; this is a big and impressive structure whose building blocks are clearly evident – a massive descending four-note figure – and which, of all three movements, seems most nearly the right length for what it has to say. (You see what a fine gentleman I am: I’m allowing for the possibility that the Philip Glass Violin Concerto has something to say.) Leonard Slatkin, who conducted, tied himself in knots trying to describe interesting correspondences between the Concerto and Elgar’s ”Enigma” Variations, which followed. I didn’t even try.
THREE NIGHTS BEFORE, “Les Miserables” had something to say, all right. I’ve seen operas and stage shows at the Bowl, and salivated enviously at the pictures in the Bowl Museum of the great old shows of the past – Max Reinhardt’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” most of all, which later became a movie (now finally on DVD) with Mickey Rooney as Puck – but last week’s production has to be the best use of that space I’ve yet seen. No, it didn’t match the awesome moment in a real theater of the scene at the Barricades, or Javert’s suicide into the sewer, but it came amazingly close, with live and video joining into valuable theatrical enhancement. The cast was over-all superb; the tiny Gavroche was someone you’d want to spread on a brioche and swallow whole.
  And for what? The music remains a glorious, juicy cheat. Not since Quixote’s “Impossible Dream” have the time-signatures of 6/8 and 9/8 been so blatantly overstressed in a musical score to wrench shivers and tears from an audience. My love-hate affair with “Les Miz” goes far back to the first London run; I can’t shake it. The kids at Hamilton High won me over with their production a few months ago; theirs was a snappier, more light-hearted show. This one had me shivering and in tears. I can’t wait for the next.
NEXT DAY: Santa Barbara beckoned, as it always does this weekend, as the Music Academy of the West ends its summer festival with a staged opera in the creaky old Lobero Theater. Everybody shows up, pushing one another aside to get a hug from Marilyn Horne – who runs the voice program there — and whoever else of major importance shows up. Bill Bolcom was on hand this time; people said that his opera, “A Wedding,” was better done by the Santa Barbara students than it had by the Chicago Lyric. Could be; it was a bright, bouncy show.
  It’s the Robert Altman comic film: dysfunctional families colliding as they interlock at a wedding. (Wasn’t there a Bollywood movie about this, too?)  Bolcom is splendidly multi-phasic, and he sets up a glorious confusion of musical interweave that bustles and surges and now and then comes to rest with a lovely love song. I don’t see a professional career for his opera; it seems exactly right for talented students to use for great fun, which is what happened in Santa Barbara. Worth the trip.