La Scena Musicale

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Dudamel and "La Phil LIVE" Connect with Shakespeare and Tchaikovsky!

by Paul E. Robinson
The Los Angeles Philharmonic has always been an enterprising organization, and especially so with impresario Ernest Fleishmann in charge. Today, under the leadership of current president Deborah Borda and Maestro Gustavo Dudamel, it is breaking new ground in all kinds of ways; for example, Dudamel is bringing the concept of El Sistema from Venezuela to the poorer neighbourhoods of Los Angeles, and the LA Phil is the first American orchestra to begin streaming live concerts into movie theatres. The second of these “LA Phil LIVE” performances, devoted to three Tchaikovsky symphonic poems inspired by Shakespeare, was presented on March 13. On the whole it was a triumph!
The first concert in this series, presented in January, was a fairly traditional programme of works by Adams, Bernstein and Beethoven; this second presentation, however, was much more imaginative. It included three orchestral pieces by Tchaikovsky: Hamlet, The Tempest, and Romeo and Juliet. The last of these is among Tchaikovsky’s best-known works, whereas the other two are rarely performed. All three were inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.
The performance of the music alone would have been interesting enough, but Dudamel and his orchestra went several steps further; they hired actors to perform excerpts from each of the plays, and these actors, with one exception, having memorized their lines, used various playing areas in front of and behind the orchestra to deliver them.
These actors included some “stars” from Broadway, film and television, among them Matthew Rhys (the Welsh actor currently starring in ABC’s “Brothers and Sisters”) giving us a large chunk of “Hamlet,” and Malcolm McDowell as the Ghost.
As part of The Tempest performance, we had McDowell again, playing Prospero from the organ loft.
Finally, as a preface to Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, we had the ‘Balcony Scene’ with British actor Orlando Bloom of Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean fame and American Broadway actress Anika Noni Rose.
Each of the actors performed with distinction, but I was particularly struck by Ms. Rose’s mellifluous voice and intelligent line readings. It also seemed especially appropriate for a Los Angeles-based orchestra to reach out to the entertainment industry for participation in a production such as this.
Musically, the performances were on a very high level too. Dudamel didn’t have anything personal to reveal about Tchaikovsky’s music but he inspired the orchestra to play with commitment and excitement. There were a few too many horn cacks for a major orchestra and I have heard some of this music rendered more powerfully by the likes of Stokowski or Gergiev, but Dudamel and the LAPO served Tchaikovsky well.

I attended this particular “LA Phil LIVE” performance at the Tinseltown Theater in Pflugerville, Texas, a suburb of Austin. The video quality was excellent. I wish I could say the same for the audio. Again, I have to think that the streaming process is compressing the dynamic range of the performance. The bass response is very poor and the climaxes lack weight and power.
Although I may concede that the audio is probably not of much concern to theatergoers who attend the “Met Live in HD” performances, I think I can safely assume that music lovers who go to see an orchestral concert expect more than HD quality video. They want HD quality sound too! If they don’t get it, they’re unlikely to pay $20 a ticket to come back the next time.
In these early days of concerts in HD, the audiences in many venues are miniscule – only 20 people in a theatre seating 150 at the performance I attended; with poor sound quality and almost no marketing to speak of, there may be even fewer people in the audience next time.
Paul E. Robinson is the author of Herbert von Karajan: the Maestro as Superstar, and Sir Georg Solti: His Life and Music. NEW for friends: The Art of the Conductor podcast, Classical Airs.

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Tuesday, 29 March 2011

In Memoriam: Robert Tear (March 8 1939 - March 29 2011)

Tenor Robert Tear (Mar. 8 1939 - Mar. 29 2011)

It is reported today that Welsh tenor Robert Tear passed away earlier today at 72. Born in Barry, Glamorgan, Wales, Tear made his operatic deut in 1966 as Peter Quint in Britten's The Turn of the Screw. He made his Royal Opera debut as Lensky in Eugene Onegin in 1970. Celebrated for his interpretation of works by Britten and Tippet, his Aschenbach in Death in Venice received critical acclaim and is preserved on DVD. Tear last sang as Emperor Altoun in Turandot at the Royal Opera Covent Garden two seasons ago. He died shortly before 4 am London time, after suffering from cancer of the esophagus since last fall.

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Monday, 28 March 2011

This Week in Toronto (Mar. 28 - Apr. 3)

Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin (Photo credit: Fran Kaufmann)

This is a particularly felicitous week for piano fans. One of the greatest Canadian virtuoso pianists Marc-Andre Hamelin is making a welcome return to the intimate Jane Mallett Theatre at the St. Lawrence Scentre in downtown Toronto, courtesy of Music Toronto. According to the MT website, this is his 6th visit! In recent years, Hamelin has been moving away from the extreme virtuoso repertory of "finger-breakers" that he was (and still is) famous for to the more classical repertoire. Who would have thought a few years ago that instead of programming Medtner or Godowsky he would be playing Haydn! His program this time includes works by Haydn, Schumann, Wolpe, Faure, and Liszt. I understand the recital is almost sold out, so act fast! Details at

Another high profile pianist in town this week is Jean-Yves Thibaudet. The French pianist will be performing Liszt's fiendish - and fiendishly difficult - Totentanz. The other piece featuring Thibaudet is The Shining One by Guillaume Connesson, who dedicated the piece to the pianist. Stephane Deneve, Music Director of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Dukas' La Peri and Florent Schmitt's La tragedie de Salome round up the evening. I just returned from Montreal Opera's sensational Richard Strauss' Salome, so it'll be interesting for me to hear this piece! Performances on Wednesday and Thursday at 8 pm at Roy Thomson Hall.

And one mustn't forget the great Leon Fleisher, who needs no introduction to Toronto piano fans. He will be giving a recital of Bach, Brahms, Dvorak and Jeno Takacs. Also on the program is a piano four hands piece, Schubert's Fantasia in F Minor D. 940 with Fleisher and Katherine Jacobson Fleisher. RCM's Koerner Hall on April 3 at 3 pm.

If you prefer a more irreverent approach to classical music, I can recommend the duo Igudesman and Joo. These two classically trained violinist and pianist have been breaking up their audiences like no other. Currently on tour in N.A. and Europe, they will be in town for two performances of A Little Nightmare Music at the St. Lawrence Centre on April 2. If you want to see how funny these guys can be, go do a search of them on Youtube. They are presented by Svetlana Dvoretskaia of Show One Productions here in Toronto. For details, go to

Voice/orchestral fans need not feel deprived this week. Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor is still in town, for his third performance of Bach and Vivaldi, with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra under the direction Jeanne Lamon, to take place at George Weston Recital Hall in North York on Tuesday March 29 at 8 pm.

The Toronto Mendelssohn Choir under the direction of Noel Edison, will present Brahms Requiem at the intimate Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts on Wednesday March 30 at 8 pm. I've gone to this theatre many times and can say the acoustics and sightlines are excellent. It is easily accessible by public transit. Also on the program is the Anagnoson & Kinton Piano Duo. Information and tickets at