LA Phil’s Riotous Night Around the World

By Allyson Nobles
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Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla approved action photo Feb 2017 courtesy of CBSO

The Los Angeles Philharmonic returned to The Walt Disney Concert Hall as they welcomed two esteemed musicians to perform three powerful works from three distinct eras: Russian-Romantic Peter Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major, the impressionist masterpiece La Mer from French composer Claude Debussy, and finally the world premiere of South Korean female composer Unsuk Chin’s Spira, A Concerto for Orchestra.

Leading the orchestra for the evening was the dazzling Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, who has previously collaborated with the LA Phil as a Gustavo Dudamel Fellow back in the 2012/2013 season and later as Assistant Conductor (2014-2016) and Associate Conductor for the 2016/2017 season. Gražinyte-Tyla is currently Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

The night got off to a wild start with Tchaikovsky’s concerto, with Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja sharing center stage with Gražinyte-Tyla. The two’s chemistry and dynamic was jaw-dropping as they helmed the 35-minute work. From the moment Kopatchinskaja came on stage, the energy grew. Shoes kicked off, barefooted and clad in an interesting interpretation of traditional stage garb, the spritely violinist donned a loosely sewn together jacket with coattails, the back lining seeming to slowly come undone as she danced around in song. The hems of her pant legs appeared uneven, with her left foot only making an appearance as she pivoted more onto the right during moments when she was emphasizing a particular line.

At times animalistic, Kopatchinskaja had a reactive instinct, feeding off the other soloists she traded with, her hair wild. And yet a playful quip aligned, the personality of the violinist unmatched by any arrangement ever recorded of Tchaikovsky’s sole violin concerto (there is technically also the Valse-Scherzo, but that’s another story).

By the end of the Allegro Moderato, the audience was completely enraptured, unable to hold in their applause between the movements, though a traditionally taboo notion in the classical music realm. As if comically scoring their sudden intrigue, Gražinyte-Tyla  and Kopatchinskaja excitedly continued while many attendees began flipping into their programs to learn more about the unpredictably enrapturing newcomer to this orchestra. While new to this venue and ensemble, however, Kopatchinskaja is no stranger to southern California, acting as Ojai Music Festival’s Music Director in 2018.

Gražinyte-Tyla was equally as mesmerizing to observe, her cues as if speaking another language to the orchestra, smiling all the while with absolute delight. The brevity of her motions, wafting her arms upward to ignite the accompaniment, aligned with Kopatchinskaja’s gusto in perfect sync. In moments of heightened impetus, the conductor bounced up on the toes of her black flats, almost as a ballerina’s sauté. Appropriate, considering the style that Tchaikovsky was composing during this period of his repertoire, with a similar lyrical inspiration in his ballet compositions.

Kopatchinskaja concluded the piece stamping its penultimate downbeats with the ball of her foot, the impact of the pad hitting the stage resonated quietly as a part of the music. As the audience burst from their seats for a standing ovation, Kopatchinskaja ran off the stage, her shoes still sitting, a subtle reminder of her tremendous presence still floating about the concert hall. Just as the clapping began to subside, she returned briefly to play her own Tchaikovsky-inspired piece not written for violin, noting to the audience, “you will see why.” Approaching a piano, ink-blotted sheet music on display, Kopatchinskaja put on two full-length satin black gloves, pulling them neatly up her arms.

Again, barefooted, head nearly against the keys, Kopatchinskaja dove in and drove through another wildly complex, cacophonous riot of sound. The audience again was stunned silent throughout. It was just the right transition for the following composition the LA Phil was to perform, Unsuk Chin’s Spira.

Commissioned specifically for the house orchestra, this percussion-heavy concerto had all the renderings of 20th century composers such as John Cage and Arnold Schoenberg. Unsurprising, Chin noted that the title was inspired by a 17th century mathematic conception from Jacob Bernoulli. The expressive jumps in meter and tone alluded to this idea, creating a dizzying effect with the layered use of two bowed vibraphones and hand-struck strings from within the underbelly of the grand Steinway.

Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla by Frans Jansen

There are ominous moments, met with rushes of resolved textures, interchanging emphasis from the strings to the winds, the rotation of pitched and unpitched percussion instruments consistent throughout. Again, Gražinyte-Tyla maintained the intensity and breath throughout, a live-action roadmap that the musicians followed without pause.

Though the concert hall resonated, already saturated in the reverberations, the final piece was easily most anticipated, one of Debussy’s most famous works, La Mer. There could be a bias here.

Gražinyte-Tyla’s style at once transformed again, becoming as water, her left hand the driving current of the tempo, the right as the ebbs of waves rolling in. Gražinyte-Tyla’s and LA Phils’ execution was again wholly reimagined. Instead of the pop of staccato’d accents from Chin and throaty dirge of Tchaikovsky, the ensemble was all as one again, connected, each musician bringing his or her own life to it, a full melodic ecosystem.

Moments arose when the breath of the piece translated to the audience, some members looking to the ceiling as if night sky or looking off in contemplation. Movements so subtle, one could notice the eyes flickering in the glow of the theater. Until all at once, Gražinyte-Tyla sharply inhaled before striking into a new upbeat, and the attention is back, over and over.  Till they were engulfed for the last time by the performance, the final waves swept up by her arms once more.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic begins to wrap up their 2018/2019 season hosting Esa-Pekka Salonen the final weekend in April, running through the first weekend of May and closing out in July with a concert led by Thomas Adès. Tickets can be found at http://www.laphil.com.

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