by Barry Creyton on October 7, 2019

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles

Post image for Music Review: DUDAMEL CONDUCTS GERSHWIN AND COPLAND (LA Phil at Disney Hall)


It’s difficult to determine just what makes music American; and if a symphonic program is to be labeled “American”, which composers might be on the shortlist? Under the blanket title Dudamel Conducts Gershwin & Copland, this thrilling evening also included short works by Barber and Previn, all four composers giving us a sense of place that could only be America.

Samuel Barber’s lush Knoxville: Summer of 1915 evokes the wistful nostalgia of a dreamy dusk in the Tennessee town. The James Agee essay which inspired Barber speaks of the secure comforts of family and home as seen through the eyes of a six-year-old boy. The clear simplicity of Julia Bullock’s soprano interpreted the piece with moving grace.

Andre Previn’s Can Spring Be Far Behind? is inspired by Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind, specifically, the closing line: “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?” The dissonant flurry of winter wind evolves into the sweeping strings of spring in this soaring tone poem composed just a few years before Previn’s death.

Copland’s music makes us think instantly of America. Like Barber’s Knoxville, Appalachian Spring is deeply embedded in its sense of place and time. This is perhaps the most quintessential of all Copland’s works, in which a day in nineteenth century rural Pennsylvania is condensed into twenty minutes. Simple melodies thread their way through variations on the opening chords leading us ultimately to the Shaker hymn “‘Tis the Gift to be Simple.” From its sleepy sunrise to peaceful sunset, this was beautifully executed by Dudamel with a balance of passion and emotional sensitivity.

For me, the highlight of the program was the Gershwin Concerto in F. It’s unlikely one will ever hear this performed better, or in surer hands than those of Dudamel and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.

From the bombast of the timpani which opens the first movement, through the gentle, playful jazz of the second, to the agitato frenzy of the third, the sheer excitement of this inalienably American concerto made the heart beat a little faster. Thibaudet’s flawlessly exhilarating interpretation was a definitive tribute to one of America’s great composers of the twentieth century.

We Angelinos lucked out with one of the country’s finest orchestras; multiply that luck a hundredfold and we have the bonus of a conductor who brings out the best in the best — the great Gustavo Dudamel.

photos courtesy of LA Phil

Dudamel Conducts Gershwin and Copland
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave.
ends on October 6, 2019
for tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit LA Phil

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