In prospect, the Hollywood Bowl program Thursday evening had real attraction. It offered Wunderkind cellist Matt Haimovitz's debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as the orchestra's first performance of a recent work by minimalist Steve Reich.
Reality, alas, proved both duller and distinctly less tidy than imagination had projected. Not for lack of effort, but where performances were workmanlike, they missed refinement; where impetuous, they needed controlled direction.
At 16, Haimovitz has already played with some of the brightest and best of orchestras, and he was certainly not shy about charging into Saint-Saens' Concerto No. 1. But his tempo fluctuations, which left conductor Leonard Slatkin and the orchestra lurching at times, seemed more a matter of momentary adrenaline than of measured interpretation.
The Israeli-born, Juilliard-trained cellist has technique to burn--which he did--and a deep, full tone, which amplification inflated to a roar, easily overwhelming the accompaniment. Haimovitz does not stand alone at that level of technical attainment, however, and there was little else in his playing to distinguish him from many another young, aggressive cellist.
The Bowl is hardly noted for patronage of serious contemporary music, but Slatkin is. Reich's Three Movements (1986) was in fact commissioned and given its premiere by Slatkin's St. Louis Symphony.
The musicians for Three Movements--played as a single unit--are dispersed in a double orchestra formation, with antiphonal counterpoint an important effect. But at the Bowl that separation is purely visual beyond the first few rows, compressing Reich's rhythmic interplay into a single sound source.
The result was a heavy, iterative thing of scant joy or wonder, "Bolero" without the tune. The circumstances were not favorable, but it seemed clear that Three Movements is not one of Reich's more imaginative and successful efforts.
As a conservative counterpoise to this modest reminder of modern musical life, there was Rimsky-Korsakov's good old "Scheherazade" to end the program.
Or rather, tired old "Scheherazade." While concertmaster Sidney Weiss fiddled beguilingly in his solos, Slatkin worked busily and the orchestra played with dutiful, intermittently sloppy disinterest, in a seemingly endless performance.