March 27 - Wordpress Sphere
Osmo Vanska (photo credit: Greg Helgeson) By Patrick Swanson Assistant Editor, L.A. Opening Nights Before I get started, I have to let you in on a little secret: I’m from Minneapolis, Minnesota. No need to whisper, of course: Minneapolis is one of the cleanest, nicest, prettiest cities in the country. I only tell you that I’m a proud Minnesotan in the interest of full disclosure, because I am about to discuss Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä’s Los Angeles debut with the L.A. Philharmonic this past weekend. Vänskä is the principal conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra, you see, and is in my humble opinion largely responsible for turning a very good orchestra into a great one (check out their acclaimed Beethoven Symphony cycle if you don’t believe me). As both a Vänskä fan and recent transplant to the West Coast, I find myself somewhat tempted to defend my brother from the frozen North at all costs, but I will try to be fair. First things first: he’s not for everybody. Vänskä combines an obsessive ear for detail and nuance with a quirky conducting style – an interesting combination of tiny jerks and jabs and huge, Romantic sweeps to egg on his players. He prefers extremes of tempo and dynamics. His programming tends to be more conservative than the kind favored by the L.A. Phil, though by no means does he shun contemporary voices entirely. Those big romantic sweeps sure come in handy, though, when it comes to the Suite from Der Rosenkavailier. Richard Strauss’ glitzy homage to 18th century Vienna begins on a humorous note with a somewhat graphic musical depiction of sex. At first, Vänskä was somewhat fussy and plodding with music that should fly out of the gate (like this ), and the sex sounded more laborious than uproarious, an example where the conductor’s obsession with the odd detail does not pay off. Things eventually picked up, thankfully, and Vänskä made sure to milk Strauss’ anachronistic waltzes (a 19th century phenomenon) for all they were worth, delighting in every elegant turn of phrase and noting every subtle shift of tempo. The ever-flexible L.A. Phil followed him every step of the way, and the raucous ending (complete with a wildly spinning ratchet and a big sweeep) was appropriately loud and over-the-top; the applause was quick and enthusiastic. Vänskä has had a long, fruitful relationship with fellow Finn Kalevi Aho, a highly versatile composer and fellow alumni of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, which has produced a remarkable crop of talent in the past few decades (including Esa-Pekka Salonen, Kaija Saariaho and Magnus Lindberg). Aho’s music marries a highly personal idiom– a strange amalgam of Mahler, Sibelius, Shostakovich, and Bartok – with an unerring technique and a flair for orchestration. Saturday night also saw the West Coast premiere of Aho’s Clarinet Concerto, commissioned and brilliantly performed by the Swedish clarinetist Martin Frost (in a wonderfully-ridiculous single-striped suit) . Despite some beautiful passages (a simple, lullaby-like second theme in the opening movement) and a truly demonic scherzo, it’s not one of Aho’s better works, but it still provided Frost with ample room to dazzle with plentiful lightning-quick scales, snaky trills and uncanny multi-phonics (particularly effective in the work’s desolate, eerie conclusion). Frost followed the Aho with a surprise encore that sounded like Paganini playing klezmer on speed. The second half belonged to Sibelius’ lyrical, enigmatic Sixth Symphony. Vänskä is a great Sibelius conductor, but this performance is unlikely to win any converts to an already-puzzling work. Still, there are few symphonic movements in the canon that offer the wonderful sense of flow that the first movement does, and even the detail-obsessed maestro could not stem the tide. There’s a strange coolness and haunting melancholy to this music that make it difficult to program. The ending doesn’t help much either: a long-held note in the strings that evaporates into nothingness. Kind of a bummer, really, but Sibelius has more serious things on his mind that entertaining you (he would have scoffed at the Strauss). “While others mix cocktails of various hues,” he wrote, “I offer pure spring water.”
Read this article in its entirety on Wordpress Sphere...