Live Music: The Los Angeles Philharmonic performs Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at the Hollywood Bowl

By Don Heckman

The 2012 Hollywood Bowl classical music season opened Tuesday night with loads of good intentions.  Some succeeded, others didn’t.

The best was the decision to perform the Beethoven Symphony No. 9.  It’s hard to go wrong with one of the crowning achievements of Western culture.  Especially when it’s performed by the world class artists of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, under the baton of Leonard Slatkin.


It’s easy to think of  Symphony No. 9 solely in terms of the magnificent Ode To Joy of the chorale finale.  But the first three movements – and the dramatic third movement, in particular, for this listener – contain some of the classical era’s most gripping music.  And the Philharmonic, guided with crisp precision by Slatkin, brought it all vividly to life.

So too, musically, for the Ode To Joy finale – a virtual one movement symphony in itself.  Every element, from the Philharmonic and the Chorale to the four soloists – sopranos Rachel Willis and Sasha Cooke, tenor Gordon Getz and bass Christian van Horn – came together in a performance perfectly capturing Beethoven’s incomparable blend of deep emotion, captivating drama and articulate intelligence.

That particular intention left nothing to be desired.  Less successful, however, was the inclusion of video imagery inspired by Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, and projected onto an enormous screen above the stage. It’s hard to imagine what the intention was behind that decision, which was commissioned by the L.A. Phil and the Getty which (surely not coincidentally) is currently featuring a Klimt exhibition.  One might make a reasonable list of classical works that could combine with various visualizations.  Disney did a few in Fantasia (including Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6. (Pastoral).  But the Ode To Joy?  Especially with imagery that offered little more than odd combinations of abstract images, leafy plants and urban street scenes?

Call it distracting, at best.  And its presence made it impossible for the Bowl’s usual video tracking of performers to include any images of the four soloists and the Chorale during the entire Ode To Joy.

The opening segment of the evening featured three works by female composers — Anna Clyne, Anne Lebaron and Cindy McTee.  Their pieces displayed a cross-section of contemporary composition methodology.  Clyne’s Rewind blended lush orchestral tones with repetitive percussion and a literal tape “Rewind” of a segment of the piece.  Lebaron’s American Icons was a thick-textured orchestral blend of sounds embracing every aspect of musical Americana.  And McTee’s Tempus Fugit, powered by tick-tock percussion, was clearly inspired by jazz-driven textures from the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Give the Phil credit for delivering on the good intention to introduce some intriguing new talent to the Bowl classical audience.  It’s not exactly clear why three works by female composers would be included in a program with the Beethoven Ninth.  But their presence made a lot more sense than the Klimt video.



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