Los Angeles Music and Dance Preview: MÄLKKI, STRAUSS & DANCE (Zimmermann’s Cello Concerto & Alpine Symphony, Susanna Mälkki and the LA Phil)

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by Tony Frankel on January 16, 2018

in Dance,Music,Theater-Los Angeles


One of the reasons that the LA Phil is doing better than ever is the programming variety. With plenty of classics, we are also getting a slew of new music, much of it seeing its premiere at The Walt Disney Concert Hall (there will be over 50 such works next season alone). Additionally, there are also unique stagings that involve ingredients like multi-media and acting.

This weekend, audiences will be treated to a feast of sight and sound when Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois (1966) is given its U.S. Premiere, while Finnish choreographer and dancer Tero Saarinen and his ensemble offer a new dance piece commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Fellow Finn, and Principal Guest Conductor of the LA Phil, Susanna Mälkki (below) — one of the most exciting and powerful conductors on the scene — will direct the orchestra in three performances through Sunday.

The five-movement Cello Concerto, originally intended for dancers, is, according to Gramophone, “a haunting fantasy, at once ballet score and concert work, a parody of nineteenth-century terpsichorean conventions which is as bitter in tone as it is beguiling in sound.” In this case, “bitter” is better. Zimmermann’s style is Klangflächenkomposition, roughly translated to mean a structure of sounds and sound mixtures with electronic means; the emphasis here is on planes – or areas – of sound and tone-colors. His work is informed by various time periods (Baroque, Classical, Jazz, Pop, etc.) colored with modern orchestrations that both sound like and use electronica.

The cello solo is so demanding that there will be three players sharing the part: Ben Hong, Timothy Loo, and Eric Byers. The accompanying instruments are significantly employed as well; they include alto saxophone, contrabass tuba, electric guitar, prepared piano, cimbalom, and even glass harp, an instrument perfected by Benjamin Franklin (see my piece on this fascinating music-maker). The concerto also has a large percussion section (five in toto) that plays a major role in the piece, providing many of the danceable rhythms. The concerto is by turns delightful, jazzy, shadowy, and hallucinogenic.

And as long as the orchestra is utilizing an amazing array of instruments, why not add cowbells? In the second half is Richard Strauss’s soaring An Alpine Symphony, one of the greatest tone poems ever written. Being an avid hiker with 307 National Parks under my belt, I always find it remarkable when a composer evokes nature through the scoring of instruments — and when you have a crew as talented as the LA Phil, the effect will be transportive, as every principal gets to strut their stuff. Everything in this rarely performed 45-minute beautiful beast — from buzzing bees and warbling birds to storms — is evoked by wind machine, organ, string quartet, and, yes, the rather obvious use of cowbells. Don’t expect memorable leitmotifs here, just lean back and let the music take you on a meditative journey through nature. Classical KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen examines the work in the video below.

Opening each concert is a selection from J.S. Bach’s The Musical Offering, a collection of keyboard canons and fugues and other pieces. Webern’s orchestration of a highlight, the six-voice fugue (Ricercata), is a re-interpretation of Bach’s masterpiece. Concerned with the work’s detail and its building blocks, the seven-minute work is scored for flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone, timpani, harp, and full strings.

On Friday beginning at 6:30, Enhance Your Experience: Enjoy complimentary drinks and a spectacular view of the DTLA skyline from the Blue Ribbon Garden; the Inside the Music pre-concert event begins at 6:45pm, on stage with Brian Lauritzen. After the concert, stay for a post-show Q&A with Brian and the artists. On Saturday at 7pm and Sunday at 1pm, enjoy Thomas Neenan’s pre-concert talks with Mälkki and Saarinen appearing in the first 15 minutes.


videos and photos courtesy of LA Phil
production photos by Mikki Kunttu

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Susanna Mälkki, conductor
Ben Hong, Timothy Loo & Eric Byers, cello
Tero Saarinen Company
BACH: (arr. WEBERN) Ricercar
ZIMMERMANN: Concerto for cello and orchestra en forme de pas de trois
(U.S. premiere)
STRAUSSAn Alpine Symphony
Fri and Sat, January 19 and 20, 2018 at 8
Sun, January 21, 2018 at 2
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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