Live Music: “Tchaikovsky Spectacular” at the Hollywood Bowl

By Don Heckman

It was Tchaikovsky Spectacular night at the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday.  “Tchaikovsky” because the program consisted, in its entirety, of selections from The Nutcracker, Swan Lake and 1812 Overture  And “Spectacular” because of, first, the music, and second the fiery display of pyrotechnics during the 1812 Overture.

All of this was performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Bramwell Tovey, with dancers Marcelo Gomes, Veronika Part, Paloma Herrera and Cory Stearns from the American Ballet Theatre, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and the USC Marching Band.  A large and significant collection of musical and balletic talent, and they all deserve kudos for coming together in such delightful fashion.

The opening segment featured Gomes and Part dancing to scenes from The Nutcracker, lithely moving with ease across the relatively narrow stage space in front of the Philharmonic, beautifully illuminating the familiar themes played by the Philharmonic and sung by the Children’s Chorus.  

Dancers Herrera and Stearns were featured in the Swan Lake segment, with Herrera especially captivating in The Dance of the Cygnets. Again, the Philharmonic brought rich emotional life to music they’ve played many dozens of times.

The climax of the evening was everything it promised to be.  The 1812 Overture was delivered with appropriate bravado by the Philharmonic, enhanced by the arrival of the USC Marching Band, dressed in full uniforms and helmets.  The band’s marching line extending from one side of the Bowl to the other, they joined the Philharmonic in the grand finale, the excitement building as the cannons roared and the fireworks, exploding in all directions, filled the sky.

Branwell Tovey

That said, Tovey’s between-segments remarks often came close to stealing parts of the show.  His descriptions of the story lines for The Nutcracker and Swan Lake were as informative as they were hilarious, driven by Tovey’s ever-wry sense of humor.  And when he got to the 1812 Overture, which required some historical background, he happily took the opportunity to explain, again humorously, that the work has nothing to do with the altercation between the U.S. and the U.K. in 1812.

Not since the days of John Mauceri can I recall any summer conductor (other than Tovey) performing in such an engaging fashion.  One could make a case, in fact, for Tovey’s interaction with the crowd as a significant element in the success of this immensely entertaining performance.  Let’s hope he is offered even more to do on next summer’s Bowl schedule.

Video by Faith Frenz. 



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