This week’s Los Angeles Philharmonic program honored 1960, with three works composed in that year, a composer of a fourth (and major) work who was born that year, and performed by a soloist born that year. I’ll start with the last point. The soloist was Dawn Upshaw. Adjectives are inadequate. Looking up quotations to find some marvelous comment on “dawn” wasn’t useful. I simply cannot imagine another singer performing the two works at any level approaching her artistry.
The program was constructed around two works for singer with orchestra. First, before intermission, was Time Cycle (1960) by Lukas Foss. A good summary of the work is here, and sound clips from the Bernstein recording are here; Upshaw’s performance sets a higher standard than in this recording. Then after intermission, there was a performance of Golijov‘s Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra (2002), a beautiful work comprising works written separately and for other uses that have been brought together and reorchestrated as necessary to make a cohesive song cycle. The central work is “Lua Descolorida” (Colorless Moon), written originally for Upshaw and later incorporated into the Pasion segun San Marcos. Upshaw has recorded the original version of this song, with piano, and the Pasion has a version with orchestra, for which a clip is available from iTunes, but not from Amazon. The current cycle surrounds this work with “Night of the Flying Horses”, originally written for a film, and “How Slow the Wind” which combines two Emily Dickinson poems. In the form we heard yesterday, Golijov has written one of the major works for vocalist and orchestra in the literature.
The concert opened with Samuel Barber’s Toccata Festiva (1960), for organ and orchestra, written for the new organ in Philadelphia’s Academy of Music, later recorded by Philadelphia, among others. Simon Preston played the Disney Hall organ, and the work provided lovely fireworks to serve as a compatible introduction to the Foss. The evening ended with Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from “West Side Story”, which was given a joyous performance. The members of the orchestra even seemed to enter into the spirit of snapping their fingers and calling out “Mambo!”. Once again Alexander Mickelthwaite had stepped in for an ailing colleague, and he did well.
Saturday night was the closing concert of this year’s “Jacaranda” series, with a well-shaped program of Berg, Mahler, Schoenberg and Schubert in a tribute to Vienna. Mark Robson played the Berg piano sonata and accompanied bass-baritone Dean Elzinga in six “Wunderhorn” songs by Mahler. Gloria Cheng played the Schoenberg Six Little Pieces and performed with the Denali Quartet and Elzinga as narrator in a brilliant performance of Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte. The Schubert Song of the Spirits Over the Waters for eight men and five low strings served as a closing benediction. Next season’s Jacaranda series of eight concerts will feature Messiaen.