Los Angeles Music Preview: THE LAST DAYS OF SOCRATES (La Phil at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on October 10, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles


Having presented exceptionally successful premieres this year, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is on a roll. From the West Coast premiere of Adam Schoenberg’s Bounce to the U. S. Premiere of Tan Dun’s The Tears of Nature to the posthumous World Premiere of Peter Lieberson’s percussion-rich composition Shing Kham, the LA Phil has proven itself a world leader in both commissions and stellar presentations of new works.

LA PHIL Disney Hall 10th Logo

Now, The Last Days of Socrates, Brett Dean’s large-scale oratorio for orchestra, chorus and baritone soloist (who sings the role of Socrates),  appears for two performances only this weekend, October 12 and 13. Commissioned for the Berlin Rundfunkchor, Melbourne Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic, it received its world premiere in April 2013 in Berlin with soloist Sir John Tomlison and the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Dean’s 55-minute opus arrives at Disney Hall conducted by our own Gustavo Dudamel with the LA Phil for its U. S. premiere.

Ensuring the new work receives the most magnificent treatment possible, the LA Phil has brought in baritone Peter Coleman-Wright, tenor Joshua Guerrero, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale with its music director Grant Gershon. (The indefatigable Gershon just led the LAMC’s 50th Anniversary celebration, conducted select performances of LA Opera’s Carmen, and prepares for LAMC’s upcoming presentation of Carmina Burana. If you need something done well, as they say, give it to the busiest person you know.)

gustavo dudamel

Born in 1961 in Brisbane, Australia, Brett Dean studied as an instrumentalist at the Queensland Conservatorium Griffith University where he mastered the viola, eventually joining the Berlin Philharmonic in 1985. His composing career began in 1988 as an arranger and improviser with fellow Aussie Simon Hunt, creating soundtracks for “strange experimental films,” as Dean calls them. After venturing into “electro-acoustical” pieces, he found himself drawn towards orchestral composition.

Socrates came about because Dean was looking for possible opera stories; he chanced upon a book of Plato’s dialogues–including the infamous cup of hemlock and the drama surrounding Socrates’ trial and demise. He saw dramatic potential, but found the dialogue wordy. Dean than collaborated with a poet from Melbourne, Graeme William Ellis, who made a wonderful 3-movement shape of the story; it has aspects of an oratorio but retains the drama one would find in a staged opera. In telling that story, Dean found “the sonic, dramatic, and poetic potential” of spatial elements and unusual instrumental groupings irresistible.

Walt Disney Concert Hall Poster

Dean says he is fascinated by Socratic types, given that Socrates was “a gadfly type who questioned everybody and everything.” He adds: “The Socrates story transcends eras and raises questions relevant for all humanity in all epochs. It’s a story that is hovering whenever we witness the attempts of freethinking opposition to state control, for example. Our approach is built on the inherent energetic and dramatic discourse of this very real human drama, which, although having taken place well over 2000 years ago, still resonates with us. One could tell this universal story in a myriad of contemporary or stylized ways; in this instance it’s told using a modern choral/orchestral setting that I feel contains both message and mystery.”

Also on the program with The Last Days of Socrates are Beethoven’s The Ruins of Athens Overture and his Piano Concerto No. 4, played by the gifted pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. (For those craving an all-Beethoven program, the Piano Concerto No. 2 will be played with the No. 4 and The Ruins of Athens Overture on October 10 and 11, again with Dudamel and Andsnes.)


Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
Peter Coleman-Wright, baritone
Joshua Guerrero, tenor
Los Angeles Master Chorale, Grant Gershon, music director

October 12 and 13, 2013 Program:

BEETHOVEN: The Ruins of Athens Overture
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4
DEAN: The Last Days of Socrates (U.S. premiere, LA Phil commission)

October 10 and 11, 2013 Program:

Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Leif Ove Andsnes, piano
BEETHOVEN: The Ruins of Athens Overture
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 2
BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 4

for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit http://www.laphil.com/

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