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Review: An evening of 'water music' at the Hollywood Bowl

The rain refuses to be ignored as Leonard Slatkin conducts the L.A. Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.

July 13, 2012|By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic
  • Picnicking audience members bring out umbrellas and don ponchos during the shower just before the concert.
Picnicking audience members bring out umbrellas and don ponchos during… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

The guard was insistent Thursday night. "You must take your umbrella back to your car or forfeit it," he barked. "There are no umbrellas allowed in the Hollywood Bowl."

Who knew?

And who cared?

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Los Angeles Philharmonic: In the July 14 Calendar, a review of the L.A. Philharmonic's concert at the Hollywood Bowl said the orchestra had performed Saint-Saens Symphony No. 3 in January at Walt Disney Concerto Hall. It's the Walt Disney Concert Hall. —

It never rains in the summer in L.A., right? Plus in the past, when a storm cloud wandered off course and threatened a night on which the Los Angeles Philharmonic was playing, the concert was canceled rather than subject the players' precious instruments to moisture. The last time that happened was Sept. 11, 1984. Now, though, with global warming and the installation of a larger and more protective shell in 2004, rain might be more likely, but the show can, as it did Thursday, go on.

A quarter-hour before the 8 p.m. concert was to begin, the drops were relatively few but fat. Sneaked-in umbrellas popped up. Picnics were pretty much ruined. Eventually ushers passed out emergency thin plastic ponchos, which worked quite well.

The concert started 20 wet minutes late. Leonard Slatkin conducted and began by making a crack about the evening's "water music." He opened the program with Hindemith's "Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber." Slatkin noted it was quite popular Bowl fare when he was a boy usher in the early '50s but that Hindemith now unjustly scares away audiences. A dozen years ago, Esa-Pekka Salonen made a terrific recording with the L.A. Phil of the "Symphonic Metamorphosis," and Sony Classical never bothered to release it in the U.S.

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On Thursday, though, Hindemith was nothing next to the rain, which began in earnest during the "Symphonic Metamorphosis" first movement. Most, at least in the boxes, braved it out, and an almost-party atmosphere ensued. Hindemith's score — written during World War II when the German émigré composer taught at Yale — is unusually jolly, jazzy music for grim wartime years and equally unusual music for a composer who often enjoyed exploring a great many shades of orchestral gray.

The second movement is a kind of goofy scherzo. That's when the rain was heaviest, and it proved good accompaniment for those who dashed out seeking shelter. Others who stayed snapped photos on cellphones. A small waterfall flooded over one of the video cameras, creating arty effects on the large screens.

The orchestra was protected, except for the basses. The crown over the stage, on which the light fixtures hang, functioned like a trough with a small opening at a join atop over where the basses stood. The video captured all the action.

As for the performance, it was lively enough to fit the mood. The final march, however, could have been snappier. The wet was starting to get old.

After a long break, during which the front of the stage was mopped and the basses moved, the evening's soloist, Daniel Hope, came out for Prokofiev's Second Violin Concerto. It's a moody, melancholy concerto and should have been a welcome respite from the typical Bowl violin war horses by Mendelssohn (that's next week), Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. But I think the weather by this point had put a damper on things.

The British violinist has a big, rich sound and a big, enquiring spirit. The concerto, which was written in the mid-1930s and has the balletic quality of composer's "Romeo and Juliet," seemed just right for him and for Slatkin, who keeps textures clear, rhythms clean and melodies shapely. But it was a flat performance. The rain was over, but the Bowl felt waterlogged.

Intermission was for drip dry cycle before the evening's big work — Saint-Saëns Symphony No. 3, known for its charismatic solo organ part. The L.A. Phil performed it in January at Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the hall's glorious organ, played by the orchestra principal keyboard player Joanne Pearce Martin, was the star.

Martin was again at the console — this time electric — as a soloist (and she deserved to have her name on the program). Though lacking the visceral presence of real pipes, the organ came through loud and clear on the Bowl's amplification, which was significantly better behaved than it had been two nights earlier for the orchestra's opening night.

Slatkin etched the symphony smartly. He's currently a music director in Detroit and Lyon, France, and he brought both Motor City macho and refined French coloration to this 19th century blockbuster. That's not to say he gunned a Camaro through Provence (although there was a little of that) but, rather, that he fused a few strong American flavors with a traditional French cuisine. The symphony, and what remained of the audience (many who left during the first half had, in fact, returned) held up remarkably well. It was an evening to remember, if not so much for the music.

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