The LA Philharmonic features violinist Hillary Hahn and debuts world premier “Aysheen”

By Charlize Althea Garcia, Oct. 31, 2023

Familiar versus unfamiliarity. A push-and-pull program from the LA Philharmonic interposed the audience into a sandwich of musical ideas with pieces from Sibelius, Swan Lake and Saad Haddad Oct. 20.

Oftentimes one listens to music to forget, to escape or feel comforted by the universality of human emotion. There is a message in the music that the listener is attracted to. “Aysheen” by Saad Haddad prompts feelings and memories we try to escape but also the experiences that we have survived.

The one constant in life is our body, and Haddad uses this to emulate the conforming functions that adapt to the extremities of life.

The piece begins with the tam-tams imitating breath and the bass drum acting as a heartbeat. From that introduction, I latched on to an abiding conjecture. But as the piece continued, the idea was lost.

The escalation into the microtonal passage the strings exhibit was hurried, and although, the inclusion of microtonality was striking, which can position the Western listener into a place of discomfort, anticipating consonance and resolution. But it also prompts the idea: should microtonal music, music exhibited outside of the Western world, equate to tension? For now, it does, and Haddad recognizes that eventually settling in momentarily to a cadence in the strings that erupt to a familiar drama. However, the strings are quickly joined by the woodwinds that continue the previous idea of microtonality.

The complexity of this piece with its many musical ideas cannot exemplify something so simple as breath and body, but rather the sound represents the conscience of what it has survived and its ever-changing complexion in life.

“Aysheen” ends with a hushed drone from all sections: a tribute to a blankness of what is to come tomorrow.

Following the beauty of convolution is a differing composition and composer: Violin Concerto in D Minor by Jean Sibelius, a composer who strays away from the intent of figuration and symbolization and instead musters a structural abstraction that is easy to follow with the ears but difficult to follow with in connection. That is not the case in the scope of the whole composition as there are varied moments where the violin exhibits a romantic sound. This is a piece that primarily showcases a violinist’s virtuosity as Hillary Hahn, without encumbrance, displayed.

Sibelius incorporates a test of bow control with its abundance of string crossings as well as mental and physical dexterity in rapid leaps. Hahn endured the piece, approximately 30 minutes long with an overload of technical intricacies, with refinement and skill that reminds us of her veteran status in the classical world.

Ending the magnetic program is another entrancing composition that plays with the imagination and heart: “Selections from Swan Lake,” by Tchaikovsky, or rather, the “disordered” selections. The arrangement confounded the ears and replaced excitement with exasperation that almost turned into dissatisfaction. Swan Lake is a beloved piece, and shortening it is a mistake — this arrangement is another.

“Danse de coupes” is unapologetically animated. To transition from the buoyancy of that movement to the seductive and mysterious “Scene – moderato,” the theme of the piece, was an injustice. The transition from “Mazurka” to “Entr’acte,” movements that are typically far removed from one another, was similarly too abrupt a shift. And having “Entr’acte” preface the finale was distressing. The inclusion of Swan Lake is always appreciated but only if it can be done in a manner that lets the listener experience the majesty of the symphony.

Though the end of the program had every opportunity to embitter the audience, the prior performances defined that night: beauty can be found both in the familiar and unfamiliar.

Feature image courtesy of the LA Philharmonic Association 

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