YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


'Harlequin' Premiere Soars in L.A. Philharmonic Triad


At almost the exact time the Royal Ballet was dancing Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe," as choreographed by Frederick Ashton, Friday in Costa Mesa, Esa-Pekka Salonen was conducting the complete ballet as a concert work in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The differences were illuminating.

Under Salonen's direction, Ravel's score, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, emerged as a brilliant, abstract sound mosaic rather than a dramatic scenario involving specific characters and events.

Unfortunately, it does involve characters and events.

"Daphnis" closed a three-part program that also included Villa-Lobos' joyously reckless "Choros" No. 10, "Rasga o coraca~o" (Rend the Heart) and the world premiere of Larry Lipkis' "Harlequin" for bass trombone and orchestra, written for and played by the Philharmonic's own Jeffrey Reynolds. "Harlequin" has all the makings of becoming a popular classic.

The playing of Ravel's score by the Philharmonic could scarcely be faulted. As usual under Salonen's direction, textures were transparent and instrumental groups exquisitely balanced.

This included the Master Chorale, which, in just one particularly exposed section, navigated through the tortuous chromatic shifts in the a cappella Interlude with complete certainty.

Still, something is drastically wrong when, for instance, the gauche, macho and risible solo danced by the antagonist Dorcon sounds almost as lovely as Daphnis' suave and superior dance.

This is true not only from the point of view of Ravel's fitting the music to Fokine's original scenario. The lack of dramatic tension and change in characterization under Salonen made for a tedious sameness. Things got louder or softer, faster or slower, but not more or less dramatic, more or less specific.

The big, familiar moments--Daybreak and the General Dance, for instance--surged and roiled and went over big. But the plot points and the connective tissue didn't cohere or register.

Villa-Lobos' "Cho^ros" No. 10 is a giant plate-tectonics kind of a piece, in which different geological strata move over each other at varying rates. Binding them all together is a healthy, lusty rhythmic drive.

In what was the Philharmonic's first performance of the work, Salonen directed a masterly interpretation, once the chugging rhythms got going. The opening, however, in which the later events are prefigured, sounded rather formless. The Master Chorale contributed mightily to the heady mix.

Lipkis, an Angeleno now composer-in-residence at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa., may not have been thinking of Strauss' colorful tone poem "Till Eulenspeigel's Merry Pranks" when he wrote "Harlequin." But the parallels are suggestive.

In both cases, a picaresque hero undergoes a series of adventures, generating affection, gaining respect, losing love and facing death but enduring forever, if only as a legend.

Strauss' program is spelled out. Lipkis' isn't. But his fine ear for orchestration and characterful writing evoke a tangy sense of incident, including a bewitching dialogue, both humorous and heavenly, between bass trombone and, believe it or not, a musical saw.

Reynolds played the taxing, virtuosic trombone part with impressive mastery. David Weiss, otherwise busy as the Philharmonic's principal oboist, was pretty adept as musical "sawist," if there is such a term. If not, maybe there should be.

Los Angeles Times Articles