Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in February 2012. (Lawrence K. Ho/Los Angeles…)
Gustavo Dudamel’s hugely ambitious finishing kick to his 2011-12 Los Angeles Philharmonic season began Thursday night — but not quite as originally planned.
The program was supposed to have been something quite different — a unified trilogy of Scandinavian and Baltic music — but Grieg and Sibelius were eventually dropped and in their places were two not-quite-mainstream Mozart compositions, the Adagio and Fugue K. 546 and “Posthorn Serenade.” Then, as of Tuesday, the Adagio and Fugue had been dropped, replaced by the presumably-easier-to-prepare Overture to “The Marriage Of Figaro.”
Given the orchestra's looming production of “Don Giovanni” next week, this makes programming sense, turning May into Mozart Month at Walt Disney Concert Hall. It also suggests that Dudamel is realizing he’s not Superman, that the pace he’s been setting for himself this season may be just too much.
The sole remaining piece from the original program, the one-movement Violin Concerto (“Distant Light”) by Latvia’s Peteris Vasks, was the focal point of the night — which it would have been anyway. Vasks has been conveniently grouped into the corner of meditative renegades from the old Soviet bloc — think Estonia’s Arvo Part, Georgia’s Giya Kancheli and Poland’s Henryk Górecki. Yet while “Distant Light” fits somewhat into that mold (particularly Kancheli’s), it departs midway with an episode of folk rhythms and another of seething dissonance that culminates with a short outbreak of free-form chaos before ending as it began — with twittering violin harmonics.
Written for fellow Latvian Gidon Kremer and recorded by four other violinists since, “Distant Light” wears rather well — and it found excellent interpreters in violinist and Vasks aficionado Alina Pogostkina, who didn’t force her tone and played with a sense of mournful distance, and Dudamel, who gave a sharp snap to the central section’s rhythms and brought the piece in at just under a half-hour. The 66-year-old Latvian composer was on hand to receive the ovation, which was loud and fervent.
As for the Mozart portions of the evening, Dudamel and the Philharmonic raced through the “Figaro” Overture rambunctiously, if not always neatly, and then treated the "Posthorn Serenade" with the same care and feeding as they would for a late Mozart symphony. Conducting the sprawling, seven-movement piece from memory, Dudamel conjured all kinds of sweet, witty, virile, brusque and stately inflections from his ensemble and soloists, almost making us forget that it’s only a serenade, nothing really profound or deep.
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Los Angeles Philharmonic, with Gustavo Dudamel and Alina Pogostkina; Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., downtown L.A.; 8 p.m. Saturday; sold out; (323) 850-2000 or www.laphil.com.