Photo courtesy of Craig Mathew

Review: The LA Philharmonic bridges the musical world with pieces from Ortiz and Mahler.

By Charlize Althea Garcia, Oct. 18, 2022

The Los Angeles Philharmonic and conductor, music and artistic director, Gustavo Dudamel, continued the Pan-American Music Initiative, performing a recent composition by Gabriela Ortiz paired with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 on Oct. 8. 

“Altar de cuerda,” meaning string altar, is a violin concerto composed by Gabriela Ortiz in 2021. Ortiz took approximately three months to compose this piece. The composition roots its inspiration from a spiritual and symbolic concept, having no religious notions. “Altar de cuerda” is part of a series, “musical alters.”

Seconds into the piece, the violin soloist, 19-year-old Maria Dueñas, stunned the crowd with her technical brilliance. Her emotive performance throughout the piece complimented her promising virtuosity.

Although her expertism was showcased, the spotlight might have been too overbearing, burying the piece with runs on end. The melodies were of ghost-like movements that jumped inconsistently throughout the piece; both silence and melody were spasmodic. The orchestra and the violinist felt as if they had not complemented each other but acted as equal counterparts that contributed to the same conversation; the orchestra did not seem to support the violinist but challenge her.

The spectral melodies rendered the essence of the occult. Languid moments would arise that brought a softness to story. Each movement had energy, shifting momentum from the orchestra to Dueñas and vice versa.

Photo courtesy of Craig Mathew

Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 was the final piece played. Symphony No. 1 was composed by Gustav Mahler in 1899. Its original composition dated back to 1884, but due to Mahler’s eye for detail, its final edition wasn’t produced until 15 years later. The stealth of the beginning of the symphony contradicted the brio of the last piece. Though, that was soon interrupted by a surge assiduously meditated upon. It transitions from what seems like a minatory omen but then cascades up to a convivial sensation. This is replicated throughout the piece. In the second movement, “Kräftig bewegt, doch nicht zu schnell,” the audience is walked through a harmonious relationship between the lower and upper strings. The lower strings, demonstrated their innate gruffness while the upper strings, as always, illustrated the brightness within. The movement then continued to fuse together as the strings grew an affinity to one another.

The third movement, “Feierlich und gemessen, ohne zu schleppen,” was anomalous when listing the themes on paper. The movement started with a bass solo of “Frère Jacques.” The soloist enthralled the audience. It’s not everyday someone hears a bass solo, and as the soloist played, the audience were reminded of its reserved sound. The movement continued to reference the theme of “Frère Jacques” then deviated from the French countryside to a Klezmer band. Mahler intended for this movement to resemble a funeral march which is a bit cynical, considering that “Frère Jacques” is a nursery song.

The piece reached its final movement, “Stürmisch bewegt.” With an overwhelming use of percussive elements, a torrent of string runs, and a repetitive onslaught of winds, the audience is immediately transported to a warzone. The magnitude of flair was immeasurable when watching the LA Philharmonic. Dudamel, parallel to the energy of the orchestra, conducted with ebullience. The movement came to a dignified end, illustrating a majestic scene from a storybook.

The program was affluent in excitement and energy. The pairing of Mahler and Ortiz seems as if they were poles apart. However, both pieces housed a spirit of verve and eccentricities that were evident in each movement. Dudamel, Dueñas, and the LA Philharmonic’s performance embodied that spirit and energy, electrifying the buoyant audience.   

Feature image courtesy of Craig Mathew

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