Home sweet home: the LA Phil celebrates 20 years at the Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Charlize Althea Garcia, Oct. 17,2023

Another year older and another year wiser, the LA Philharmonic marked its 20th anniversary Oct. 6 with conductor Gustavo Dudamel and cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who took on an animated program and welcomed an impassioned audience back to the concert hall.  

In a room full of tuxedos and bowties, Kanneh-Mason, one of the world’s most prominent cellists, walked onto the stage wearing a purple button-up accented with floral designs and slacks. Seldom does a classical music audience feel youthfulness in a performance, but Kanneh-Mason was able to display a bright-eyed performer at first glance.  

Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, a piece that strays from the cello’s natural lulling and charming sound in the first movement and weaves its organic abilities throughout the other three, commenced the first night of the season. Kanneh-Mason’s intense performance exhibited Shostakovich’s grim composition in the first movement, Allegretto. Bouts of chaos define Allegretto, specifically with the repeated double stops in the cello, which Kanneh-Mason played with precise vigor, and with the disjunct dance between woodwinds and strings. The next three movements soon usurped the feelings Allegretto worked to establish.  

The first minute of the second movement, Moderato, brought peace to the ear. Even then, Shostakovich’s gloomy essence returned within seconds. The audience then met a pacifying melody contrasting what they heard before. In the next moment, a dissonant melody jars the audience. The many twists and turns made the orchestra radiate. The lower strings of the philharmonic educed a tug in the melody and in the audience, and in the next dissonance, the upper strings, in response, lifted.  

Kanneh-Mason played solo the third movement, Cadenza, and for almost seven minutes, the young cellist held the attention of everyone in the concert hall. The third movement incorporates a union between the first and second movements when passion and desolation bleed into each other. A dense melody begins but is soon interrupted with outbursts of gruff pizzicatos and double-stops, an homage to Allegretto. Kanneh-Mason’s performance, rich in tone and stimulating in sound, simultaneously displayed a fierceness and a tenderness that eventually supersedes in a way one must commend. 

The performance ended with applause and a standing ovation that seemed like an added movement to the piece and encouraged an encore.  

A continuation of alluring disorder is found in the next piece, “Uirapuru” by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. A despondent introduction gives way to a wonder-like passage in the next portion of the piece. After the first half, driving rhythms work throughout the composition, attempting to catch a consistent groove yet surrender to the classical form. With this composition, no one bat an eye. No instinctive reaction was present, only a tinge of dispassion. Its placement to precede The Rite of Spring is understandable but it following the previous piece did the orchestra and Dudamel a disservice 

Rightfully so, The Rite of Spring, the lesser unhinged composition by Igor Stravinsky, salvaged the lull in the audience. The introduction, inconspicuous of the bedlam that was coming, is bare in instrumentation and in range. The sparsity in the first movement welcomes the pandemonium throughout the piece. “Infernal Dance of King Kastchei” is heavy in energy and liveliness with sprites of percussion, trombone bellows and piccolo flurries sprinkled in with the weighty rhythm of the rest. The orchestra played “Berceuse” and “Finale,” two of Stravinsky’s most captivating pieces, with absolute vehemence, paralyzing the audience. The swell and final release in “Finale” was euphoric. The Rite of Spring will appeal to almost anyone lucky enough to hear it.  

Feature image courtesy of the LA Philharmonic Association 

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