Passing through LA I noticed that the local band was playing on my only free afternoon – Sunday December 10. It’s appropriate that the concert hall in La La Land is named after the creator and voice of Mickey Mouse. There were three numbers on the program. The 8 minute opener was Antiphony by the Chinese composer Chen Li. The piece was written when she was a Resident Composer in San Francisco – 1995. It’s a vigorous exercise that makes full use of the orchestra’s tonal palette. It has a Chinese flavor at it’s beginning. Full of interesting ideas it is a very pleasing composition that invites the listener to hear more Yi’s music. The composer’s compatriot Xian Zhang, lead a nuanced and commanding reading of this brief, but well conceived work. Zhang is in her first season as Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra.
Tchaikovsky’s ubiquitous 1st Piano Concerto was played by the Venezuelan pianist Sergi Tiempo. He tore through the concerto like Jim Brown through a defensive line. No matter that there were a few clunkers – a bravura performance that was matched by the Angelinos who easily kept pace with him, except for a few bubbles from the horns. But somehow the piece didn’t resonate or sing and I was left with admiration for technique without a lot of poetry.
The second half of the program was devoted to Prokofiev’s sixth symphony. This is a great work that doesn’t receive the number of concert performances that it’s extraordinary merit deserves. The three movement symphony is a vast composition that is both an orchestral and artistic tour de force. Composed in 1947 it was well received after its first performance the same year under the direction of Evgeny Mravinsky. Of course, it was shortly thereafter condemned by the Soviet hierarchy. Under Stalin artistic merit was inversely proportional to official approbation.
Prokofiev’s orchestration of this symphony is so masterful and accomplished that it defies description. This is a work that has to be heard live when performed by a virtuoso orchestra. Maestra Zhang is a powerful and articulate conductor. She got every last particle of meaning out of her outstanding orchestra. The Disney hall’s acoustics are fine and allowed the full merit of this marvelous symphony to be realized. If you come near a major orchestra that programs this great symphony, don’t miss it.