Saturday, January 14, 2006

It's Official! New York Times Declares Los Angeles National Center of Symphonic Excitement!

File this one in the... too good to be true file....

January 15, 2006

Continental Shift New York Times By ALLAN KOZINN

LOS ANGELES — Predicting which American city might overtake New York as the center for the arts - any of the arts - has long been a parlor game in certain circles. If, 15 years ago, you had asked an informed fan where the excitement was in the symphonic world, you would have heard about the St. Louis Symphony, thriving under Leonard Slatkin's baton, or about the Cleveland Orchestra, which, under Christoph von Dohnanyi, was regaining the sheen it had lost since the 1960's height of George Szell's fabled tenure.

Surely no one would have mentioned this city, where the Philharmonic was respectable but on the downside of its up-and-down history. Yet in 2006, the Los Angeles Philharmonic tops the list of America's premier orchestras and serves as a lesson in how to update an august cultural institution without cheapening its work.

It has everything. Its new home, the $275 million Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, became a national cultural landmark the instant it opened in 2003 and is as satisfying acoustically as it is visually. The orchestra's programming - modernist-leaning and often inventively theatrical - has won the envy of music lovers across the country and is playing to near-capacity houses.

The ensemble has burnished its reputation for energetic, streamlined playing, and this weekend it is making a recording for Deutsche Grammophon, ending a four-year recording drought. It has also leapt into 21st-century musical commerce, striking a deal to make some of its concerts available on iTunes.

At the center of this grand renovation is Esa-Pekka Salonen, the 47-year-old Finnish conductor who has been the Philharmonic's music director since 1992...

My God - I can't imagine what photos of Kozinn the LA Phil could have of him (a threesome with an underaged gerbil and an immature baby seal?) that could force him to write all that wonderfully purple prose in the New York Times - so he must actually believe what he wrote!

Now for Esa's big, big plans for our future....

.... he has explored the music of the Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, and he started a "Filmharmonic" project to foster new collaborations between composers and filmmakers. Mr. Salonen envisioned a series of new 60-minute works with film components, which the orchestra could perform and release on DVD. But he was unable to raise the funds.

"I haven't given up hope that someday some executive at Disney comes and says, 'Well, look, do you want to do it?' " Mr. Salonen said. As for the criticism he has received for not championing enough Los Angeles composers, "It has been on my mind a lot," he said. "The problem is that L.A. is quite a transitory place.

There are young composers who come to study here, and then they're gone." But he has hopes on that front, too.

Yay! Now for more good stuff....

The orchestra is offering a Beethoven cycle this season, but also installments of a Shostakovich cycle, a festival built around the English composer Thomas Ad├Ęs, and "Minimalist Jukebox," an expansive exploration of Minimalism overseen by Mr. Adams.

"Almost daily," he said, "I run into people who would come to a Kurtag concert" - Gyorgy Kurtag, a contemporary Hungarian composer - "and who would also go to hear U2 or a world-music presentation. And they will enjoy a symphony here and there. It's an iPod landscape."

All told, the orchestra's current season offers works by 42 composers from the 20th or 21st centuries, 9 from the 19th and 8 from the Baroque and Classical eras - a configuration unimaginable among the East Coast establishment.

Critics' pleas for more adventurous programming at the New York Philharmonic are usually dismissed with the assertion that new music doesn't sell tickets. But the Los Angeles Philharmonic expects to sell 93 percent of its tickets this year. The New York Philharmonic projects sales of 81 percent.

And now for the big close...

Rock stars, star architects, Finnish diffidence and intellectual experimentation: Can other cities learn from this strange amalgam? Mr. Salonen regards it as site-specific, and he isn't much interested in testing the theory.

He is happily ensconced in Los Angeles with his wife and three children, and if he gives up his Los Angeles directorship, it will most likely be to spend more time composing.

So New Yorkers with fantasies of Mr. Salonen moving east and breathing life into the New York Philharmonic when Lorin Maazel steps down in 2009 might as well give them up. But Mr. Salonen's success here provides a foolproof recipe for any orchestra.

All it needs is a charismatic conductor with fresh ideas and an openness to new musical currents; a concert hall that people want to go to and that musicians like to play in; programs that treat music not as a museum culture but as a lively continuum; and a management and board willing to support experimental urges.

It's pretty simple, really.

Ahhhh.... pig... wallow.... mud.....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

--- "....that could force him to write all that wonderfully purple prose in the New York Times..." ---

It's not all purple. He also wrote: "What's more, the move from the dowdier Dorothy Chandler Pavilion..."

By "dowdier," does he mean the new concert hall, therefore, is less dowdy? And although the Pavilion could use some upgrading here and there, particularly its proscenium, whose dimensions are a bit on the short side for an impressive-looking operatic setting, I'm glad it was built right before the era of overly severe, modernist design in performing-arts facilities (meaning nothing traditional like chandeliers and polished marble were allowed in even a square inch of space) became totally mandatory in cities throughout America and elsewhere.

Kozinn also wrote: "Ms. Borda is now projecting a surplus. The turnaround hasn't come easily. 'People here are just learning about philanthropy'"

Borda is being just a wee bit condescending there.

Okay, Angelenos in general have not been as generous towards civic matters, or the performing arts, as some of their counterparts elsewhere, but that started changing before she arrived in the city. After all, the Los Angeles Music Center, County Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art, among other things, were built with the support of philantrophists over 19 to 40 years ago.

However, I can't be too critical of someone like Deborah Borda when it has taken Angelinos themselves so long to get major areas of the city, such as the downtown area, converted into the kind of environment that people will be happy with and want to invest their time and money into.