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MUSIC REVIEW : Pregnancy Pause at L.A. Philharmonic


Nature the unpredictable intervened Thursday in another Los Angeles Philharmonic concert, only this time in a very favorable way. In fact, this type of thing used to be called a blessed event.

Prompted by a different kind of cue, music director Esa-Pekka Salonen had to rush his pregnant wife, Jane, to a hospital less than two hours before he was scheduled to start Beethoven's almost-appropriately named "Namensfeier" (Name-Day) Overture. She gave birth to their second daughter just a few minutes before the concert began--under the baton of another conductor.

Grant Gershon, a 33-year-old assistant conductor/principal pianist with Los Angeles Music Center Opera, took over to lead the full orchestra in a complete program for the first time, according to remarks managing director Ernest Fleischmann made from the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

Gershon acquitted himself well under the trying circumstances. He was knowledgeable, calm, prepared, steady--and cautious.

There was no way he was likely to make radical changes in what the orchestra already had prepared. Still, he did not lack ideas, even if this was not an ideal opportunity to make his own views on the works known.

He led the "Namensfeier" Overture with clarity, lightness and drive. He made Steven Stucky's transcription-plus of Purcell's "Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary" transparent and dramatic.

He accompanied Catherine Ro, the 18-year-old soloist in Saint-Saens' Violin Concerto No. 3, with sensitivity and consideration.

At this point of her young career, Ro proved more lyric than fiery, producing a rather small-sized sound that could have been easily overwhelmed by the orchestra. Yet she negotiated the virtuosic demands securely enough.

Unfortunately, Gershon also led Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in the distressingly fleet, characterless modern manner, honoring most if not all the repeats (it's hard to keep track in the scherzo without a score) but without giving any reason to engage with the music.

Absent a few glitches, the orchestra played well and seemed strongly supportive of the young conductor.

The concert was part of the "Night Out at the Music Center" outreach series aimed at young adults (with specially priced tickets). It drew more than 2,600 people, most of whom looked to be exactly the right target audience.

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