tchaikovsky and fireworks at hollywood bowl


This is an annual event at Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. The Bowl is an open auditorium that can hold up to 17000 (according to the LA times). This year the program includes:

Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Bramwell Tovey
Festival Coronation March
Violin Concerto — Baiba Skride (Latvian)
Capriccio Italien
Swan Lake suite
1812 Overture + fireworks

A group of 10 of us went to the event this past Saturday. After an afternoon walking up Mt. Hollywood to check out the “HOLLYWOOD” sign and Griffith Park Observatory, we arrived at the Bowl 1 hour early to indulge ourselves in vietnamese sandwiches + plenty of other food and wine before the nightfall. The estimated attendance for Friday performance was 11000, and i think it was more on Saturday.  Our seats were in section F3.

The concerto: according the a review in the LA times of the same performance on Friday, Ms Skride was brawny (had to look up definition myself) and didn’t have much ideas due to lack of rehearsal time. On saturday night, she played superbly according to my completely musically untrained ears. The tempo was slower than most versions I’ve heard, but it was great because she could take time to really caress the passages in the 1st movement. Here she is featured on Euromaxx.

The orchestra was a bit uninspiring in my opinion. This was probably due to 2 things: 1) we were sitting too close on the side where 6 HUGE speakers were located (although speakers were at the Box level), and 2) the slow tempo thoughout the night. The problem with speakers is that potentially everything sounds uniformly loud and has almost no shape/dynamics or whatever you call it. This reminds me of the lecture I attended once where the conductor explained that it depends on which idea he has of the piece that he could choose to have one section/instrument emphasized while others suppressed. With the uniform sound, it’s either that the conductor was a bit bored and just waved his hands following routines, or that the speakers just drowned out all softer sounds. In any case, I saw this same Los Angeles Phil orchestra 2 weeks ago with Gustavo Dudamel conducting “Carmen” and it was SUPERB, sharp, energetic, not a tired group dragging along with the music that i saw last night.

After the intermission, Capriccio Italien and Swan Lake suite were again lacking energy in my opinion. These are quite crowd-pleasing pieces when there’s enough energy… It was the last piece of the night, 1812 Overture, that got me convinced that much of the sound problem I heard was the speakers’ fault. The Overture, of course, is very loud, with 16 cannon shots and ~30 brass instruments in the finale + the fireworks. I was quite looking forward to hearing these unamplified brass instruments since we were sitting close enough… Well, i didn’t hear them at all! even the cannons were tamed, all thanked to uniformly LOUD sound blasting out from the speakers…

So, I still had a great time, but left wishing there was more energy from the orchestra (as I heard it 2 weeks ago) and less sound problem… My friends however all had a very good time enjoying the music, food, and fireworks, and company. If i’m to come back again, i’ll definitely avoid section F3, or anywhere close to the side of the bowl.  Overall a superb concerto by Ms Skride but a rather uninspiring orchestra, possibly due to the speakers.

About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

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