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Salonen incites passion at the Bowl

August 07, 2003|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

It's only appropriate that the Los Angeles Philharmonic program at the Hollywood Bowl this week offers scenes of wild passion and imagination. The orchestra and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen are about to leave for the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, so why can't we trip out too?

The conductor opened and closed the program Tuesday night with works by Berlioz -- the "Royal Hunt and Storm" from "Les Troyens" and the "Symphonie Fantastique." The centerpiece was his own "LA Variations."

The scene from "The Trojans" was played with lightness and transparency and just a hint of eroticism, until all the pent-up sexual passion broke out with the storm.

Similarly, the "Symphonie" flowed with grace and delicacy until those breathtakingly insane emotional eruptions described so well in the composer's program notes. When did Salonen become such a madman on the podium?

For his own piece, the conductor provided program notes that are nearly entirely objective and irrefutable: One quarter-note equals 150 metronome beats, two hexachords are played together as ascending scales, that sort of thing. He let another idea slip out, however, in describing the penultimate section: "Probably the most joyful music I've ever written."

Indeed, for the layman, hearing the score proved an involving, imaginative experience a million miles from objective, technical analysis. To go to the opposite extreme, let's say power chords and little rhythmic wiggles configure to suggest ever-changing but familiar landscapes, neighborhoods, attitudes and moods. You know the piece must be rigorously constructed, but who can repress a smile when principal bass Dennis Trembly gets a chance to step out with his own dance-like solo?

Perhaps it's myopic and chauvinistic to assert, but somehow Salonen has captured the unique energy of the City of the Angels, which is entirely different from, say, the nervous energy of New York. It's layered, complex, conflicted, calm, confident and ultimately unassertive. The piece ends quietly instead of banging you over the head. It's like the way Salonen works. He does his job on the podium, takes a modest bow and gets off the stage without any grandstanding.


Los Angeles Philharmonic

Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood

When: Today, 8 p.m.

Price: $1-$88

Info: (323) 850-2000

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