Posted on30 September, 2016 | 12:14

With Gustavo Dudamel conducting, the Los Angeles Philharmonic swings into a new season

Gustavo Dudamel begins his eighth season conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic during Tuesday night’s 2016-17 debut for the ensemble at Walt Disney Concert Hall. This is the Phil’s 13th season at the venue

If you believe in the adage, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing,” you’d have to describe Tuesday’s opening the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2016-17 season at Walt Disney Concert Hall as a swingin’ affair.

The gala event conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, marked the beginning of the Venezuelan maestro’s eighth season as music director.

“When I came, my hair was black,” he jested. “Now it has gray in it.” In fine form (and humor), he took to the podium with the goal of making the evening, as he put it, “fun.”

And fun it was, with nary a serious note of Bach, Beethoven or Brahms anywhere to be heard. Instead, the mood was decidedly upbeat and syncopated, dedicated to the sophisticated rhythms of George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter and Leonard Bernstein.

The entire evening, which in many ways felt like a continuation of the Hollywood Bowl season except for the tuxedos and ball gowns, combined orchestral pieces with show tunes performed by a pair of Broadway stars: Megan Hilty (“Wicked”) and Brian Stokes Mitchell (“Kiss Me Kate”). It also gave the musicians of the Philharmonic (particularly the sax and trumpet sections) a chance to show off their chops.

Of Gershwin’s orchestral pieces (there are six, seven if you count his arrangement of tunes from “Porgy and Bess”), the “Variations on ‘I Got Rhythm’” from 1934, is one of the lesser known. It is pure Gershwin. But it also integrates elements of rhythmic complexity, instrumental dissonance, and chordal structuring that reflect the composer’s intense interest in the musical trends that were propelling European classical music. Gershwin was a great admirer of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel (who he once, famously, tried to recruit as his teacher) as well as the members of Paris movement known as “Les six.” He was particularly attracted to the work of Darius Milhaud who had integrated elements of jazz into his 1923 signature composition, “La création du monde.” There is also a local connection, as much of the work on the “Variations” was composed while Gershwin vacationed in Palm Springs.

The piano soloist was a young rising star named George Li, who took second place at the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia. To say he attacked the “Variations” with gusto is an understatement. He could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.

And as in “Rhapsody in Blue,” the piano makes its entrance on the tails of an ascending line from the clarinet. The first variation is a waltzing introduction of the popular show tune Gershwin created for the 1930 musical, “Girl Crazy” that starred Ethel Merman. But it’s in the second variation where Gershwin pulls out the modernist stops and introduces a back-and-forth for the piano and orchestra that celebrates European serialism and atonality. The piece ends in a flurry of percussive jazzy attacks that Li delivered with pugilistic precision.

By Richard/




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