By Charlize Althea Garcia, Dec. 13, 2022

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by conductor Gustavo Gimeno, played pieces from Coll, Saint-Saëns and Shostakovich on Nov. 26.  

“Aqua Cinerea,” or “ashen water,” was the first piece played and composed by Francisco Coll. This composition was his first orchestral work composed when he was only 19 years old. It’s title, eliciting a poetical theme, informs the audience to envisage the piece. 

Whether its ash falling into the ocean or an ocean full of ash, Coll paints a picture of angst, with splashing notes of calamity.  

Much like an Op Art piece, he creates an illusion with the music. In the beginning there is a sense of wonderment, but as we go further along, the mood shifts to an overcast of darkness that portends to obscurity. Cacophony surges as we near the end. It was a short moment of retained chaos that left me simultaneously sated and ungratified with its withholding of an ending.  

“Aqua Cinerea,” unlike some contemporary pieces, had a structure to grasp as a listener. It wasn’t a feeling I was trying to understand but a coherent story or picture; and the title made it easier. I wasn’t getting lost in the jumps within the composition nor was there a colossal number of questions of the composer’s choices in both instrumentation and music. Coll was able to implement subjectivity but also have his direction evident throughout the piece.  

Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Piano Concerto No. 5, Op. 103 in F Major (Egyptian)” was played next. It was the complete antithesis to the first piece while maintaining the same feeling of a poetical theme. Saint-Saëns’s, in his works, evokes a sensation of being told a story; the “Egyptian” did not fail to deliver. Though the piece was inspired by a trip to Northern Africa, the first movement aligns itself with western classical tradition, maybe the composer hasn’t left the French countryside yet within this movement and is making his attempts to dock the boat. The second movement better exemplifies the title with the lyric melody being an authentic Nubian song. This doesn’t last long as the journey returns to the familiarity of Saint-Saëns’s buoyancy in the third movement. Javier Perianes, the piano soloist, demonstrated a fine performance alongside the symphonic orchestra. 

Photo courtesy of the La Philharmonic

The last piece heard was Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 5.” Pertinent to the first piece, the composition displayed a menacing air that shook the concert hall. It had an impression of dramatic apprehension. Unlike Saint-Saëns’s romantic approach to his pieces, Shostakovich expresses his emotions and the poetical theme as if it were an elegy. But like Saint-Saëns’s, there is a sophistication that follows him and exudes through his work but it’s quiet and somber.  

Symphony No. 5, from the first movement to the last, had my ears and eyes glued to the symphonic orchestra. There wasn’t a moment where my attention preoccupied itself with irksome audience coughers or the yawns of the high-browed audience; my absolute full attention was given to the composer. From the shrieks of the brass and woodwinds to the gloomy majesty of the strings, the composer succeeds to make an audience affectionate towards the darkness of this piece. There were distinct phrases in which that agency was evident. The first movement, we enter solemnity; the second movement, we continue to jollity with a scherzo; the third movement, we near the end with sobriety; the fourth movement, we end with fanfare.  

The LA Philharmonic under the direction of Gimeno performed each piece with a narrative purpose. The orchestra exemplified the most ideal form of a medium from storyteller to the audience through their mastery and allure of a performance. 

Feature image courtesy of the LA Philharmonic

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