Sol Gabetta, Leonard Slatkin, and the LA Philharmonic play Martinu and Berlioz – May 15, 2016

Disney Concert Hall

I’m a big Frank Gehry fan. Some critics say all of his buildings look a bit the same, and they may have a point. But honestly, given how great they look, I don’t mind a bit.

After having been to the Guggenheim Bilbao, and having stayed at the Gehry-designed Hotel Marques de Riscal in Rioja, a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall was long overdue.

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Although I’m in LA on a regular basis, I never had the time to actually go see a concert there. So I was very happy when things turned out different this time.

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Sol Gabetta

I just happened to be here during the annual Piatigorsky Cello festival, and saw the chance of seeing Sol Gabetta live. I had already seen her live in the past and was impressed by her passion. She is born in Argentina, but lives in Switzerland now.

The first time I heard about her was with her album Progetto Vivaldi back in 20o7, where she plays among others parts of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Note that these concertos are originally violin concertos, and she just effortlessly plays the violin part on a cello! Impressive.

With Leonard Slatkin and the LA Philharmonic

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I wasn’t too disappointed that Gustavo Dudamel wasn’t at the baton, as I’m really not a big fan of him. I had a more neutral opinion of Leonard Slatkin, and he really seems to be a nice guy, based on a long interview I recently heard with him, and the pre-concert talk he did at the Disney Hall (including a “conducting for beginners” improvisation).

The concert started off with Rossini’s William Tell overture. I must admit I’m not crazy about Rossini in general, but the overture really does the trick, and the part of the music that hasn’t been massacred for The Lone Ranger et al. is actually quite pleasant.

Bohuslav Martinu’s Cello Concerto

I’ve said it previously, I’m not too much into 20th century music. I occasionally like the impressionists like Debussy and Ravel, but beyond that I rarely enjoy stuff.

Three exceptions to the rule all come from Eastern Europe, Bartok, Janacek, and Martinu. I really like some of ;Martinu’s chamber music. But I must admit I hadn’t heard his cello concerto yet prior to this concert.

It is actually a nice experience discovering a new work for the first time in concert and not on record. It is a much more vivid experience. And in this case a very rewarding one. The concerto is just beautiful. Especially the second movement is really memorable. You wonder why this concerto isn’t played more often.

And Gabetta played great as expected, with passion and visibly having fun. We even got an encore from her, a solo piece by Peterisk Vasks. Trick question: how many voices can you get playing a solo cello? Regularly usually up to two if you play the strings in parallel. But here we got a third melody: her voice! A magical moment.

Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique

This is really about the only major work I know and love from Berlioz. The story is just fascinating. I’m still looking for my perfect interpretation on record, but “grew up” with the early 1990s recording of Roger Norrington with the London Classical Players, so early-HIP.

The LA Phil under Slatkin sounded anything but HIP, actually in many moments I was reminded of Wagner, but it was a great concert nevertheless. Slatkin went through a lot of efforts in storytelling, including putting one of the two “sheperds” from the pastoral scene on the balcony, or hiding the drums and “church bells” behind the orchestra.

Overall, a really great experience, in a beautiful hall, with great acoustics. The only downside of the great acoustics is that you hear every little noise the audience makes, and they were making a lot of it. I’ve rarely heard so many coughs, and this in spite of this concert being recorded for release.

In any case, I’m looking forward to buying this album eventually!

You can find the Progetto Vivaldi album here (Qobuz)

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