Sunday, January 9, 2011

Review of LA PHIL Live in HD; Two Powerful Silences

The LA Philharmonic jumped into the Live in HD pool this afternoon with its first ever live in HD broadcast, and the first of three HD broadcasts this season.

The program was attractive; "Slonimsky's Earbox" by John Adams, the Bernstein first symphony and Beethoven's seventh symphony.

There were two powerful silences in the experience: first there was no sound from the satellite in my theater until half-way through the Adams. One needed Beethoven's ear-trumpet to hear Slonimsky's Earbox.

In the 21st century we turn quickly on failures of this sort. People were pissed. They stormed out looking for refunds. The live signal we were channeling from an orbiting satellite, in order to hear a symphony playing on the west coast, was silent. We failed to see the humor. We are too spoiled.

The other silence was devastating. At the end of a gripping performance of the Bernstein first symphony, that was the musical highlight of the event, conductor Gustavo Dudamel froze and let silence wash over us. He must have stayed motionless for 12 seconds or more...and finally applause.

Mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor sang from within the orchestra in the third movement. She sang without the hard edges and intense vibrato that one often hears in this movement. It was gorgeous.

Here was Bernstein presented to the public in movie theaters as a composer of serious music. It was strangely affecting; strangely funny.

Dudamel described Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 as being a symphony "of happiness." It is "like dancing and dancing and dancing and enjoying," he said. The performance of the first three movements was ok. Dudamel chose not to take the repeat in the first movement. Why would one choose less happiness than Beethoven?

But the fourth movement was full of fire and jumped with massive energy into the movie theater.

This medium has great potential for symphonic music. The production will need to be improved. The tendency to cut from one angle to another reached a caffeinated frenzy during the Beethoven. We don't need so many close-ups of the musicians. We don't always need to pan during wide shots. Let us watch Dudamel for more than a few seconds at a time. We never felt a part of the audience in LA. Give us more shots from the audience.

Here is the thing: there is nothing boring about watching an orchestra. Choose an angle and let us watch them for a while. Let us decide where to cast our eyes once and a while.

I liked Vanessa Williams. I guess sometimes the snow does come down in June.

With some tweaks and some rethinking this series will work.

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