Lionel Bringuier Returns to LA Phil with French Connections

By Allyson Nobles
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Walt Disney Concert Hall was a flurry of energy Friday, March 29th. After some time away on tour, the LA Philharmonic Orchestra was back, with a familiar addition. The orchestra began to tune, the A slowly rising and growing.

“It’s the sound of magic about to happen,” attendee Rainee Lyleson shared.

The tone of the evening was playful and lively. Many jetlag jokes were proclaimed as the orchestra had just returned from a jaunt across to Asia, with stops in Seoul, South Korea and Tokyo, Japan.

The night began with a percussive and invigorating performance of Gershwin’s Cuban Overture. The place and culture of the country abounding with the use of maracas, wood blocks, and other lesser common elements in traditional orchestral set-ups. Bringuier appeared at times to be pulling the musicians’ in as the song progressed, motioning with a sort of “come here” gesture with his hands.

The chemistry between the LA Phil and Bringuier was evident in the communication shared between them throughout the night. What would normally require overzealous hand motions instead found effectiveness in Bringuier’s more subtle moments, the familiarity key to their following.

More so, the familiarity seemed to pour over into the audience. After one observer suffered a short bout of coughs, gentleman seated in front of her pulled out a cough drop with a smile. She graciously accepted and returned her attention to the action below, no longer distracted.

Any exhaustion felt by the musicians was lost in the energy of the concert hall. The venue was abuzz as the grand piano was brought out just before French pianist Hélène Grimaud made her entrance for the evening.

The ease in Grimaud’s demeanor was well-suited for Bringuier’s sharp and attentive handwork. Though, this was just one of many times they had played together. This was evident in Bringuier’s many gestures to Grimaud’s commanding performance, as he spent much of the concerto watching and smiling at her, at times his conducting reflecting a gesture akin to hat-tipping.

Meanwhile, Grimaud was as if watching a dance. Her body circling, eyes up at the false sky. At times her forearms were parallel to the keys to evoke the sound she was executing. Her hands glided as if the keys collectively were a sponge her knuckles bounced effortlessly along, no bone to ivory, but instead as if soft as a cushion, as if butter.

The orchestra’s responsive playing only propelled the performance, the bows of the strings all fluttering effortlessly along as if the players were about to take flight. The oboes at times oozed sound as if molasses, a further nod to the sultry tone of the evening.

After his six-year stint as assistant, associate, and finally resident conductor with the orchestra starting in 2007, Bringuier has been busy jumping from Spain’s Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León for three years to Tonhalle Orchester Zürich from 2014-2018.

It was only appropriate for Bringuier’s homecoming to be scored by works from and synonymous with his hometown of Paris, with fellow Conservatoire de Paris student Maurice Ravel (though over 100 years apart). Sharing the night with Ravel was Parisian romanticizer George Gerswhin, who was additionally inspired by Ravel’s work, even meeting him once in New York. That story was shared by blue-haired composer and radio host Alan Chapman who lead the interview and Q&A after the concert’s conclusion as part of the Casual Fridays series that the LA Phil hosts.

Bringuier’s approach is academic and clear, a nod to his extensive musical studies from the age of five, with an emphasis in cello and conducting.

Grimaud, additionally a synesthetic, played as if the paint to Bringuier’s hand and orchestra’s canvas. She later described the dominant color of the concerto simply as green, but that each tonality and modulation have colors of their own as well.

One concert-goer, awestricken, commented, “I’m really trying to find a compliment for Grimaud without feeling as if being seduced. I was blown away.”

It’s not a surprising takeaway, with her unrelenting smoothness in playing as well as presentation. Waltzing out in an elaborately printed top and blue jeans, it seemed as though she floated across the stage, even wearing chunky square-toe cowboy boots that were shown off much of the performance as she toe-tapped along with her playing. Most of the audience was overdressed compared to her Casual Friday look.

After the collective breath of the space from Grimaud’s mesmerizing display, the stage again reshuffled and full orchestra returned for Gershwin’s An American in Paris. The work, a rousing end, conclusive and full-circle with the relationship spanning not only the LA Phil with Bringuier, but also Bringuier as a Parisian in Los Angeles, and even further then, the United States with France.

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