Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gustavo and the L.A. Phil Live

Gustavo and the L.A. Phil Live / A hit at the multiplexes

On Sunday afternoon, the Los Angeles Philharmonic hit the big screen ~ more than 450 of them throughout the United States and Canada ~ in a high-definition, multimedia spectacle that allowed audiences to see and experience the larger-than-life passion and charisma of conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

My wife and I attended the L.A. Phil Live at the AMC Bay Street cinema in Emeryville, about a 15-minute drive from our house. It was a nice alternative to watching NFL playoff games at home on TV.  I was surprised by the near-capacity turnout for the afternoon event.  Last winter, I went to a mid-week closed-circuit broadcast of Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion that featured guests Elvis Costello and Heather Masse at the same multiplex that was modestly attended. Thus, I was skeptical.

However, I'm happy to report that the AMC Bay Street HD visuals and 5.1 surround sound audio looked and sounded terrific. And, just as importantly, the stadium seating was comfortable (with ample leg room) and provided excellent sight lines.  Added up, the $22 ticket price was worth it.

Inspiring performance / The L.A. Philharmonic  performed
works by Adams, Bernstein, Beethoven and Brahms.

Musically, Sunday's program at L.A.'s Disney Concert Hall was both interesting and inspiring.  It began with "Slominsky's Earbox" by John Adams, inspired by Stravinsky's "Chant du Rossignol," and was followed by "Symphony No. 1 (Jeremiah)" by Leonard Bernstein, featuring soloist mezzo-soprano Kelly O'Connor, who stood in the middle of the orchestra.  After intermission, the audience was treated to a wonderful performance of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92," whose second movement is featured in the climatic scene of The King's Speech.  For an encore, the orchestra performed Brahms's "Hungarian Dance No. 1."

All smiles / Gustavo Dudamel knows how to play to the camera. 

The closed-circuit broadcast included backstage interviews with Dudamel and O'Connor, before and during the concert, as well as rehearsal footage of Dudamel going over the repertory with the orchestra.  Clearly, the magnetic Dudamel was the star of the show ~ and throughout the broadcast, there were numerous close-ups of this dynamic, 29-year-old Venezuelan conductor.  Dudamel knows how to play to the camera, and he was very much at ease throughout the entire broadcast.  And, I learned, conductors like Dudamel come off the stage feeling quite thirsty after conducting a complex piece like Beethoven's Seventh, which he did from memory.  Quickly, a valet handed Dudamel a glass of water, which he consumed in no time at all before returning to the stage for further bows and applause.

With the exception of a couple of middle school-aged kids sitting near me who, judging from their inattentiveness throughout the event, looked as if they were dragged into this bit of high-brow culture by their mother instead of being allowed to see Tron or the Harry Potter movie that played next door, our audience was composed mostly of seniors ~ the same age-group that regularly supports the popular Live at the Met opera multiplex broadcasts.

Larger than life on the big screen /
Gustavo Dudamel

Sunday's L.A. Phil Live attendance and overall positive response (based on newspaper accounts I read in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times) gives me hope that this kind of event will become more commonplace. Think about it: It's great outreach for classical music and serves as an excellent vehicle for introducing Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic to a newer, broader ~ even hipper ~ audience.

I'm looking forward to the experience, again.

The L.A. Phil Live series ( continues on March 13 with Dudamel conducting an all Tchaikovsky program and concludes on June 5 as Dudamel conducts an all Brahms program.

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