By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Philharmonic; Miguel Harth-Bedoya, conductor
Dvorak: Hussite Overture; Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 2 (Jean-Yves Thibaudet, soloist)
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3 (Organ)
Thursday at 8 p.m., Friday at 11 a.m., Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Walt Disney Concert Hall
Preconcert lectures by Alan Chapman at 7 p.m., 9:45 a.m., 7 p.m. and 1 p.m., respectively
With the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Mahler Project” looming on the horizon (beginning Jan. 13), it’s easy to forget that the Phil actually returns to the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage this week. That’s a pity because there are several interesting things to note about this weekend’s performances.
First, the concerts mark a homecoming for Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who was the orchestra’s assistant and then associate conductor from 1998-2004. During that stretch, he won the prestigious Seaven/NEA Conductors Award. Now age 43, the Peruvian-born Harth-Bedoya has been music director of the Ft. Worth (Tex.) Symphony since 2000 after previously heading orchestras in Auckland, New Zealand, Lima, Peru, and Eugene, Ore.
BTW: Harth-Bedoya’s bio (LINK) on his Web site is one of the most informative and readable of any conductor I’ve researched. Also, when I first clicked on his site’s home page (LINK), the first photo that appeared was of the conductor standing outside Disney Hall.
Second, the concerto brings back a Philharmonic favorite (and local resident): pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, as soloist in Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2. In November Thibaudet was heavily involved in recording the score for the motion picture Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. James C. Taylor has a story HERE about that in the Los Angeles Times.
Third, the concert concludes with the most famous orchestral work that makes significant use of the organ: Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 3 (Organ). The Phil has never known quite what to do with its massive Disney Hall organ (with 72 stops, 109 ranks, and 6,125 pipes, it’s one of the larger instruments in Southern California). The organ’s distinctive wooden pipes do look like an overturned bag of McDonald’s French fries and the instrument has quite a wide array of sounds available, but it usually sits silent, looming above the stage.
The Phil does sponsor an organ recital series that this season features six concerts (including Clark Wilson accompanying a silent film on Halloween and a Christmas-season concert). Occasionally orchestra programs include a piece that uses the instrument (e.g., Strauss’ Also Sprach Zaruthustra, Elgar’s Enigma Variations) but neither Esa-Pekka Salonen nor Gustavo Dudamel has seemed much interested in organ music.
The organ dedication concerts in 2004 included Lou Harrison’s Organ Concerto and the first performances of James MacMillan’s A Scotch Bestiary but I don’t think either has surfaced since. Aaron Copland’s Concerto for Organ has been played a couple of times and the Phil did commission an “organ” symphony from Stephen Hartke for May 2010 but it never materialized.
Thus, an occasional performance of Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony is just about it for organ/orchestra lovers (I think this marks the third time the piece has been played since 2004). It’s actually quite an inventive piece with the standard four symphony movements compressed into two (you can tell where the second and fourth sections begin because that’s when the organ comes in, quietly in the second section and with a thunderous C major chord to begin the fourth).
Joanne Pearce Martin, the Phil’s principal keyboardist, will play the organ; her husband, Gavin Martin, and well-known local pianist Vicki Ray will play the piano four-hand parts. One other note: Saint-Saëns later dedicated the symphony to Liszt, who died in 1886, the year the symphony debuted.
Finally, one would think it impossible to find a Dvorak orchestra piece that the L.A. Phil hasn’t played but the Hussite Overture, which will open this weekend’s concerts, is receiving its first LAPO performances.
(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.