Los Angeles Music Preview: DUDAMEL CONDUCTS BARTÓK (LA Phil at Disney Hall)

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by Tony Frankel on May 31, 2016

in Music


Hungarian composer Béla Viktor János Bartók was an avid collector and analyst of folk music, especially of Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak tradition. He even recorded some village music with the first phonographs available. An inspiration for his compositional style, folk music was his love until the end: While his final work has characteristics of Bartok’s trademark somberness (his deep and very sad emotions about the world war, which destroyed his country of birth, had just ended), the happy moments in his Viola Concerto include Hungarian folk tunes that are no doubt memories of a happy past.


A happy future awaits you this weekend when the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s own Principal Violist Carrie Dennis will play Bartók’s Concerto in a Gustavo Dudamel-led program of twentieth-century works, including the suite from Bartók’s scandalous pantomime ballet, The Miraculous Mandarin. Ms. Dennis is one of my all-time favorite players in the LA Phil. Her passion is consistently unwavering and when I’ve heard her solo, her strong playing, rich with character, is a wonder. Fortunately, there are four performances to catch her, beginning Thursday June 2 and playing through Sunday June 5, 2016.

gustavo dudamel la phil photo

Virtuoso violist William Primrose commissioned Bartók to compose a concerto for him in 1945 New York. Primrose later defined Bartók as an “obscure composer” in the U.S., but at the time of the commission Bartók had become quite well known. Primrose wrote that the composer initially wasn’t sure about writing a viola concerto, as he didn’t know the viola possibilities as a solo instrument well enough. Primrose said he invited Bartók to listen to a forthcoming performance of him playing Walton’s Viola Concerto. Bartok listened to a radio broadcast and accepted the job.

A fragmentary draft was completed, and they planned to meet to discuss a few things about the concerto, but did not. Sadly, Bartok died soon thereafter and the concerto was left unfinished. Bartók’s friend and musical executor, Tibor Serly, undertook the demanding task of putting the pieces together, as the concerto was like a puzzle, written on pages with no numeration, annotations on many other sheets with other music, and a few indications for the orchestration. Primrose also made a few suggestions. The work ended up being one of the most popular viola concertos ever written (and you’d be surprised how many there are especially from the 20th century). It’s very difficult to play, so it is a splendid showcase for world-class violists such as Ms. Dennis. Do not miss her.

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Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Carrie Dennis, viola
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S Grand Ave.
KODÁLY: Dances of Galánta
BARTÓK: Viola Concerto
LIGETI: Apparitions
BARTÓK: Miraculous Mandarin Suite
Thursday June 2, 2016, at 8
Friday June 3 at 8
Saturday June 4 at 8
Sunday June 5 at 2
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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