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Los Angeles Philharmonic

Miguel Harth-Bedoya, guest conductor
Midori, violin soloist
8 November, 2008
Walt Disney Concert Hall
COPLAND Appalachian Spring Suite
BRITTEN Violin Concerto in D minor
REVUELTAS La Noche de los Mayas

By Fred Granlund         

Back from their Far Eastern tour, the Philharmonic returned to Disney Hall this week with a program of
three closely contemporary works by very diverse composers who were nonetheless personal
acquaintances: Aaron Copland, Silvestre Revueltas and Benjamin Britten.
During the 1930s, Copland spent some time in Mexico, listening to its music and meeting its composers,
including Carlos Chavez and Silvestre Revueltas. After returning to New York, and with the war brewing in
Europe, he welcomed into his home his temporarily displaced colleague, Benjamin Britten. It was just at this
time that Revueltas was finishing his score for the film La Noche de los Mayas, while Britten was crafting his
only Violin Concerto, thus accounting for two of the works on this program (the third, Copland's ballet score
"Appalachian Spring," was written for Martha Graham's company a few years later). All this is pure
coincidence, of course, since the works have little in common save for being among their respective
composers' finest achievements; but that diversity makes them good companions on a concert program,
and yet their kinship makes for a subtle unity, as well.
"Appalachian Spring" was one of the milestones in its composer's development of his personal musical
language, seeming as it does to spring directly from the folk tunes it employs for local color. On this
occasion, the Philharmonic's former Associate Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya, returning as guest
conductor, led a fluent, affectionate performance, abetted by warm, responsive playing from the orchestra
and the famously transparent acoustics of Disney Hall. Particularly fine contributions from the wind soloists
let to a rousing ovation and a solo bow for much-admired principal clarinettist Michele Zukovsky.
But as familiar as Copland's tunes (both original and purloined) are, they all but vanished from memory at
the breathtaking opening of the Britten Violin Concerto which followed. Being heard for the first time on
these concerts, the Concerto is quite original in every way: in its form (sonata movement - scherzo -
cadenza - passacaglia), its vivid orchestration, its novel approach to tonality and its writing for the solo
instrument. That all this novelty leads to a completely satisfying work is tribute to a young composer (still in
his 20s) of supreme talent and skill. Its unfortunate absence from concert programs here - undoubtedly due
at least in part to its fearsomely difficult solo part - is perhaps in the process of being corrected, as more
young violinists are taking up its daunting challenges (intriguingly enough, many of them women, including
Lydia Mordkovich, Lorraine McAslan, Rebecca Hirsh, Janine Jansen and tonight's soloist, Midori - perhaps
inspired by the work's boldest champion, Ida Haendel). But the challenges are still formidable, and Midori,
who will often seem to be wrestling a concerto into submission rather than merely taming it, here chose a
worthy adversary. Once again, she triumphed through technical prowess and sheer stamina, and the
Disney Hall audience gave her and the concerto a very warm welcome.
Following intermission, another rare treat was in store: music by Mexico's most original musical genius,
Silvestre Revueltas, composed as a film score and arranged into a concert suite after the composer's
untimely death by Jose Limantour. Though the film ultimately depicts the final demise of their entire
civilization, the music concerns itself with the Mayans' colorful festivities and a romantic sub-plot. Here the
Peruvian-born conductor was truly in his element, coaxing catchy Latin dance rhythms and brilliant climaxes
from his charges, including no less than 12 percussion players wielding an array of indigenous drums,
gourds and rattles, plus bass trombonist John Lofton doubling on the conch shell (really!). It was quite the
most remarkable racket ever heard in Disney Hall, and the audience responded with wild enthusiasm,
requiring multiple curtain calls for the army of percussionists and a solo bow for flutist Catherine Ransom,
our principal-in-all-but-the-title, receiving some well-earned recognition for a change.
The winter series continues in the coming weeks with visits from conductors Thomas Ades and Rafael
Fruhbeck-de-Burgos, and from the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra led by our own Music Director-designate
Gustavo Dudamel, who will then stay on to lead two weeks of concerts by our local band. Tickets for most
concerts are available at the Disney Hall box office or your favorite purveyor. Don't miss out!