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Los Angeles Philharmonic

Leonard Slatkin, guest conductor
Hilary Hahn, violin soloist
31 January, 2009
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet
Glazunov: Violin Concerto
Stucky: Son et lumiere
Wm. Schuman: Symphony No. 3

By Fred Granlund         

The Los Angeles Philharmonic welcomed back an old friend to Walt Disney Concert Hall this week:
Leonard Slatkin, native Angeleno and son of two members of the famous Hollywood String Quartet, and
a favorite guest conductor here for several decades. On this visit, he led a half-Russian, half-American
program whose highlights included an appearance by the popular young violinist Hilary Hahn and a
rare performance of William Schuman's iconic Third Symphony.
Still under 30 and looking much younger, Miss Hahn is a pioneer in the movement to make serious
music accessible to a wider and younger audience, addressing her young fans from her internet site
and making herself as available as possible on her endless tours (her last appearance here was at the
Amoeba Music outlet in Hollywood). She is also a brilliant and accomplished violinist, with a quite
extraordinary command of the instrument. Where other soloists never quite disguise a somewhat
antagonistic relationship--wrestling with and forcing it to do their bidding--Hahn seems quite at one with
her violin, the two of them simply making the music together. On this occasion, her vehicle was
Alexander Glazunov's charming Violin Concerto from 1904, and her warm and fluent performance fit the
music perfectly. Technical challenges don't seem to exist for her (she's recently recorded Schoenberg's
nearly unplayable Concerto), which leaves her free to probe the heart of the music and discover all its
felicitous details. Slatkin and the orchestra provided deft collaboration, and the audience's rapturous
reception brought her back with the Sarabande from Bach's D-minor Partita as an encore.
The Russian segment of the program opened with Tchaikovsky's familiar "Romeo and Juliet" Fantasy,
in a reading of high tension and drama, less detailed than the performance by Lionel Branguier and the
orchestra last summer at Hollywood Bowl, but ferocious in its cumulative impact. Still, some tentative
attacks and the odd mis-cue suggested that the usual limited preparation time had been spent
elsewhere, and two American works on the second half showed all the concentration and polish that a
great orchestra can muster. In fact, Steven Stucky's Son et lumiere and William Schuman's Third
Symphony were originally intended to open the program but, as conductor Slatkin told the audience, he
changed the order to emphasize just how important and impressive the Symphony is. Completed in
1941, it vies with the contemporaneous third symphonies of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris as the
"great American symphony" - or, in any case, the one which first distilled the essence of American
music and character into a great symphonic work. Alternating introspection and boundless energy,
intense drama and sonorous climaxes, the symphony uses 18th-Century forms (passacaglia, fugue,
chorale, toccata) to contain its wide array of inspiration, all of it sounding somehow "American," a
unique achievement in its time. And hearing it played by the Philharmonic in Disney Hall made it seem
just as new and vivid as it could have been nearly half a century ago.
Steven Stucky's work is the ideal concert opener (and indeed was intended as such here), a brilliant
play of orchestral sounds which the composer explains was inspired by the "sound and light" shows
staged for visitors to important historic monuments. Its busy ostinati and colorful textures keep the
orchestra hopping and the audience entertained for all nine minutes (always better to tax the players
and not the listeners), and the result in the vivid Disney Hall acoustics was quite spectacular. Composer
Stucky--the orchestra's former composer-in-residence and now Consulting Composer for New Music,
which sounds like the same thing--was on hand to share the audience's enthusiastic reception. As
Maestro Slatkin noted in his brief remarks from the stage, it's been nearly a century since audiences
greeted new works with anticipation rather than anxiety, and composers were applauded like popular
celebrities. It's a welcome development, and the composers can take most of the credit for it.
More traditional fare will make up the Philharmonic's programs for the next few weeks, until Esa-Pekka
Salonen returns in April for his final appearances as Music Director, with his own new Violin Concerto,
some of his favorite Stravinsky, and a swarm of new commissions on the Green Umbrella series. Those
tickets will be gone soon, so don't delay in securing yours.