The music of Anton Bruckner rarely turns up at Hollywood Bowl--for numerous and varied reasons.
Previous to the Symphony No. 8 played on Thursday, Bruckner's name had appeared on Bowl programs only once before, on Aug. 22, 1974. The symphony was the same on that occasion, as was the conductor, Zubin Mehta. The orchestra then was the Los Angeles Philharmonic; this time it was the Israel Philharmonic, concluding its stint of three concerts at the Bowl.
It was a brave and risky venture, for easy popularity is not to be won by Bruckner's Eighth under any circumstances. It is inhumanly long--Mehta's playing time ran to 71 minutes--and it demands superhuman concentration and endurance from performers and audience. The players survived the ordeal in total splendor. The audience did not do as well: Quite a few quitters tippy-toed out in the breaks between movements.
Artistically, it was a triumph for Mehta and the Israelis. Mehta conducted with massive authority and deep involvement. He counteracted Bruckner's lack of true melodic inspiration by imparting a sort of intense poignance to the thematic material. He had the sprawling form under such strict but never rigid control that the longueurs seemed mitigated. He gave Bruckner time to breathe.