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Review: The LA Philharmonic plays Pärt, Barber, and Dvořák featuring soloist Hillary Hahn.

By Charlize Althea Garcia, Apr. 12, 2022

The Los Angeles Philharmonic is back with a star-studded program: Hillary Hahn and Dvořák with Arvo Pärt. Hahn, with the symphonic orchestra, performed Barber’s lyric concerto on March 19.

In the first piece, “Silhouette,” by Pärt, there was atmosphere rather than a story. The piece was written for Paavo Järvi, dedicated to his new role as head conductor at the Orchestre de Paris — talk about a welcome gift – and the conductor of the night’s program. “Silhouette” was inspired by Gustave Eiffel, the engineer responsible for the creation of the Eiffel Tower.

The piece began with a bowed gong creating a ghostly presence as if we entered a horror movie soundtrack. There was scarcity of a melody; I found myself trying to grasp at a coherent tune. There was a constant pizzicato, or plucking of strings, conversation between the lower and upper strings that initiated the feeling of anticipation. The hints of percussion were strategically placed to contrast the feeling of eeriness and created a whimsy hue.

The piece was inspired by blueprints and illustrations of the tower, although, I could see a metaphor to the rhythm and synergy of a construction crew. Nearing the end, the drama of the Eiffel Tower emerges. The soft conclusion, I believe, references the sight of the Eiffel Tower, what once was a blueprint now a sight to see. It was an enlightening piece. Albeit there was a great deal of eyebrow fluctuations, crunching them or raising one, but that’s how I usually feel with contemporary pieces.

Hahn, considered to be one of the greatest solo violinists of her generation, entered the stage. Her presence was greeted with a tender welcome from the audience. Samuel Barber’s “Violin Concerto, Op. 14” was the second piece of the night. Disparity in the pieces were evident; the last composition produced a feeling of unease while this composition provided us with a warm blanket to wrap ourselves in. Barber composed pieces that could make you feel, that could change the rhythm of your breath and that could sate your soul with a feeling of tenderness.

With no orchestra introduction in the first movement, Hahn already shows her prodigious artistry through her mighty sound immediately. She moved with grace and determination as if she moved for us since we were constrained to our seats.

Courtesy of the LA Philharmonic

As an author limns a tragedy through their words or a painter limns their world into their art, Barber, in the same vein, had the ability to do as such. Barber was good at playing with emotions, when to withhold them and when to release them. The second movement had moments of playfulness, but nearing the end there was an overwhelming feeling of alacrity.

It’s only natural to have your eyes wander to the corners of the music hall or to the other musicians, but Hahn had a way of bewitching a crowd. Let alone the third movement with its laudable tempo, Hahn showcased her tenacity and precision. Hahn’s performance was mesmerizing just as Barber’s piece was spellbound in its entirety.

Beginning with a piece of intense modernity, we make our way into intense traditionality. The philharmonic ends with Czech composer Antonin Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 7.” “Symphony No. 7” is resplendent with climaxes and sweeping melodies. The first movement opens with a portent chord, yet we aren’t due for a tragedy. There were a few jovial moments indicated by the woodwinds, although that slowly, beautifully succumbed to a feeling of apprehension as the rhythms became more complex. Dvořák mastered the extensive inclusion of ebb and flow, strategically placing complete rests and understanding the changeability of emotion. The second movement showed his expansive use of orchestration.

The third movement, embodying Dvorak’s Slavonic roots, interchanged the dance-like melody. The violins and woodwinds seemed as if they were performing for each other which produced an impassioned dialogue. The last movement had multiple sections of ebullition, tranquil waters bubbling to the inevitable chaos of boiling water. The LA Philharmonic, with ardor and avidity, displayed an almost irreproachable performance.

The LA Philharmonic proves to be commendable for its inclusion of modernity, but their execution in classical pieces is incomparable. Hahn continues to grace audiences with her fostered virtuosity. The program had a sense of majesty and drama overall keeping us agog, and there was a surge of energy in every piece that electrified the wide-eyed audience.

Feature image courtesy of the LA Philharmonic

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