By Don Heckman
It wasn’t an especially high visibility event at the Hollywood Bowl Tuesday night. The Los Angeles Philharmonic was conducted in the first of two appearances this week by the amiable Nicholas McGegan. The soloist of the night was English trumpeter Alison Balsom. And the music was Haydn — not Beethoven, Mozart, Wagner or Brahms.
Not exactly the stuff of a star-studded evening filled with headlining major classical names. Which may explain why the attendance was a bit over 5,000.
And that was a shame. Stars aren’t everything.
McGegan, who is the music director of the San Francisco-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and Chorale, is also a conductor whose emphasis is upon the music rather than his choreography on the podium. And, although the trumpet doesn’t exactly compete with the violin and the cello as a charismatic classical solo instrument, Balsom is both a brilliant player and a ravishing on-stage presence.
And then there’s Papa Haydn. A close friend of Mozart’s, and a teacher of Beethoven, he was a well known and much admired 18th century European composer, before his work was, to some extent, eclipsed by the music of his close friend and his student. Fortunately, Haydn wrote so many compositions that his music will always be with us. And on a balmy summer night, hearing some fine selections from that catalog, well played, in the always appealing setting of the Hollywood Bowl, was an experience to be savored.
The works all traced to Haydn’s later years, in the 1790’s, when he was based in London. And one could argue, as McGegan suggested, that the delightful melodic vigor of the evening’s program – the Symphony No. 30 “Alleluia,” the Symphony No. 103 “Drumroll,” the Overture to Windsor Castle and The Trumpet Concerto – may have been positively influenced by his affair, at the time, with Rebecca Schroeter, the English widow of German composer Johan Schroeter.
The two Symphonies were performed with buoyant vitality by the Philharmonic’s players, with especially fine work from the woodwinds in the “Alleluia,” brightly dancing through Haydn’s soaring melodies. The Overture, composed for an existing English opera commemorating the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1795, was appropriately celebratory, with McGegan directing the Philharmonic into an energizing, climactic presto.
The Trumpet Concerto received some unlikely visibility twenty years ago, when Wynton Marsalis won a Grammy Award for its performance (along with the Mozart and Hummel trumpet concertos). On this night, Balsom’s interpretation was as impressive for its engaging musicality as it was for the authenticity of her phrasing and ornamentation. And there was no denying the obvious appeal of her stage presence.
Call it a memorable, entertaining experience for the 5,000+ listeners wise enough, or lucky enough, to have made it to the Bowl on a low profile night for an evening of musical pleasures.