Review: Dudamel says farewell to LA with Mahler, Mackey, and Montgomery before launching world tour

By Charlize Althea Garcia, Nov. 16, 2021

The Los Angeles Philharmonic got back into the “classical” swing of things with their third in-person concert on Oct. 22 as Dudamel conducted his last, live in-person performance in LA until April 2022.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall opened its doors to its long-awaiting audience for the first time in two years on Oct. 9 with a Homecoming Gala. The event, successful in its turnout, provided ammunition to its third week showing, “Dudamel Conducts Mahler.”

Seats were filled with animated faces and highbrow characters. As is customary, everyone grew to a silence as they waited for Gustavo Dudamel, renowned Venezuelan conductor as well as the music and artistic director of the LA Philharmonic, to enter the stage. The performance comprised of three sprightly pieces that set the tone for a lively program.

The pizzicato, or the plucking, of a viola in Jessie Montgomery’s “Strum” was the first melody heard. The piece slowly introduced the audience into a conversation of a string quartet, each instrument with its own rhythmic theme. As the piece progressed, the melodies became more complex. Melodies interlaced, creating an entanglement of different notes.

The harmonious thread that tied the piece together was the action of strumming which in classical terminology, by Montgomery’s definition, translates to either plucking like a guitar, circle bows or gruff continuous eighth notes. Nearing the end, a surge of intensity set the audience up for a rather abrupt ending.

Then, out of nowhere, the audience could hear a distant noise from a trumpet—Thomas Hooten, principal trumpet, or first chair trumpet, and the percussion section of the LA Philharmonic.

Yes, the word “noise” and the LA Philharmonic in the same sentence. This was only allowed because the first movement, or the first musical section of the next piece, “Shiveree: Fantasy for Trumpet and Orchestra,” was comprised of noisemakers, kettles and whistles. Steven Mackey, the composer, is known for his eccentric compositions with a diverse selection of instruments.

“Shivaree” was unorthodox, and in this world premiere, it completely derailed the expected tone of a symphonic orchestra. The piece introduced the audience to outlandish movements titled “Chthonian,” “Erumpent,” “Tintinnabulation,” “Exonumia,” “Requiescat,” “Deipnosophist,”
“Omphaloskepsis,” “Horripilation,” “Deliquesce” and “Apopemptic.”

One might ask, “Are these real words in the dictionary?” The answer is “yes.” This whole piece was derived from actual words in the Word of the Day feature on, from which Mackey was inspired by.

Each movement correlated with the definition of the word. “Erumpet,” meaning bursting forth, featured trumpets burst with high octaves and percussion instruments would make sudden appearances. The whole orchestra built up to those bursts as a passionate Dudamel conducted with nonchalance.

The night ended with Gustav Mahler’s “Symphony No.4.” It felt strange to have Mahler follow such an eclectic piece. “Symphony No. 4” centralizes on the theme of the poem “Das Himmlische Leben,” or “The Heavenly Life,” which tells the story of the journey from Earth to heaven. Contrasting the frenzy from before, each movement had an essence of childlike innocence.

Moments of vehemence emerged, but it all found its way back to calming waters.

The final movement saved the best for last, a solo voice, which never happens in the classical world, then again, who would add an opera singer at the end of a song? An angelic voice would prove to be a necessity as the fourth movement took place in heaven. The soprano soloist, Camilla Tilling, recited the poem, “Das Himmlische Leben,” telling the audience about the beauty of heaven and some questionable phrases including eleven thousand virgins and a saint slaughtering an ox. What is classical music without a few religious anecdotes?

Dudamel ended the show with a dramatic silence, leaving everyone in the room to inch forward on the edge of their seats until cheers erupted with a standing ovation. It was a joyous reunion between fans and beloved musicians, as well as Dudamel. Continuing his journey, he will be touring around the world in places such as Paris, Berlin and New York.

Overall, it was a dynamic program. The third program of any season is always a special one. It sets the mark for continuity, a feeling we’ve desperately longed for these past two years. LA is known for its sophisticated execution of unconventional ideas and art, and nothing less is expected from the symphonic orchestra. Most importantly, it was a heartfelt concert reviving the relationship of the LA Philharmonic and Dudamel with the people of Los Angeles.

Graphic courtesy of Sharon Wu. 

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