Now that the Los Angeles Philharmonic's U.S. tour is completed and the critic's reaction is engraved in print, it's time for me to react to the two concerts I attended in Davies Symphony Hall on May 10 and 11, 2010. Although I love most of John Adams' work, City Noir, is not one of his masterpieces. It's always exciting to hear a work with this large instrumental presence live, and that sense of frisson and wonder was magnified by sitting behind the orchestra. But the work is flat out noisy with little melody to redeem the urban chaos it reflects. I can get that by visiting L.A., but it's not what I want in a concert. Maybe repeat hearings (it's just released on CD and the DVD is available)would change my mind, but there's too much else in his oeuvre that is worthwhile - Harmonielehre, Naive and Sentimental Music, Violin Concerto for starters). It seemed to be performed magnificently. The Mahler First, however, was truly memorable. By far the most exciting performance I've heard in a long time. Yes, he took many liberties with tempos and there was much rubato, but in doing that he emphasized the different emotional states the work encompasses in a way that was creative and innovative. I listened to the final movement on the edge of my seat, literally, and the excitement was overwhelming. That kind of passion is rare in a concert environment and even rarer in MTT's Mahler. Yes the San Francisco Symphony can play it much more accurately, but that extra ounce of passion is rarely present as it was on that Monday night.
Tuesday's concert was more ordinary, and my seat was in the Second Tier. Bernstein's Age of Anxiety was pleasant to hear live and it was well played. But it didn't move me. The Pathetique was where Dudamel's tendency to milk a work for its emotion did not work for me. The first movement was superb: the right combination of sadness and longing. The scherzo was exciting but over the top. Designed to bring forth applause in its frenzy, which it did. I thought his holding the applause for an extended period of time at the end of the work was gratuitous and unwarranted. So, for me, a mixed bag. The L.A. Philharmonic isn't close to the accomplished orchestra we have in San Francisco. On the other hand, it can play magnificently as witnessed in a performance I heard in L.A.'s incredible Disney Hall of Mahler's 6th Symphony under Eschenbach. I choose to attribute Dudamel's ups and downs to youth, and not to the desire to show off. After all, he's not even 30!