Sunday, September 02, 2007

Is It Hot Out Here, or Is It Gabriela Montero?

(cross-posted at MySpace blog)

The answer to both questions last night at the Hollywood Bowl last night was, "yes." Last night, for the first time in the nearly forty years of attending the Hollywood Bowl (including the three seasons I worked there as an usher), I've sat the entire concert in a cotton t-shirt and no blanket, and was still hot. The "cool vortex" that is the Hollywood Bowl failed to deliver last night with respect to the climate.

With respect to the music, though, the Bowl didn't disappoint. It was Tchaikovsky-and-fireworks night, performed by a shirt-sleeved L.A. Phil (thank God, since I'm sure the sight of a jacket or bow tie would have been too much to bear), lead by very enthusiastic and charming conductor, Thomas Wilkins, a man who clearly loves his job.

The program consisted of most of Tchaikovsky's best known, best loved work, beginning with the Festival Coronation March. Then, Wilkins brought out the evening's soloist, Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero, to play the notorious Piano Concerto No. 1. Sopranos have certain solos -- the Queen of the Night aria, the arias from Abduction of the Seraglio, and anything by Wagner -- that are spoken of in dreaded hushed whispers. To pianists, Tchaikovsky's Pioano concerto No. 1 must be the same. I haven't played the piano since I was nine, but I can tell -- it's tough. Montero was amazing, never missing a beat. Bowl audiences aren't the most sophisticated music fans, and you always get the occasional wave of applause between movements (a no-no, folks, in case you were wondering). Last night, it was unavoidable. After the first movement, we were so enthralled, we had to applaud. When she'd finished with the piece, she got a standing ovation, and agreed to perform a small encore. Montero is known for her improvisational abilities (see her website for more detail). Principal cellist Peter Stumpf played a brief theme, and Ms. Montero proceeded to improvise a thrilling and amusing piece around it, which included elements of classical, jazz and latin influences. It was such a treat. She really was astounding. I'm considering becoming a weird, creepy stalker fan, if I can work it into my schedule.

The second act consisted of Tchaikovsky dances, starting with the famous waltz from the ballet Sleeping Beauty, known to parents of girls everywhere as Once Upon A Dream, from the Disney animated feature. The Act 1 pas de deux from Swan Lake was next (not one of my favorite pieces, actually), and finally the Dance of the Buffoons, incidental music from The Snow Maiden. It was lovely. In the interests of full disclosure, I was eating dessert at the time, so anything might have seemed lovely.

But the event that everyone waits for on Tchaikovsky night is the 1812 Overture, and the reenactment of the Russian victory over Napoleon. (Spoiler alert: Napoleon gets his ass kicked. Every time.) The USC marching band provided the extra brass required for the piece, and the pyrotechnicians took a slightly different tack than in previous years. They set the Bowl on fire. I didn't get the idea to take digital photos until I saw someone else doing it (the one benefit digital has over film -- the "Fireworks" setting), so I missed capturing the moment when the rim of the procenium was aflame. It was indescribable. I'll remember next time, I promise. But I did get a couple of nifty fireworks shots for you.

Other things I missed photographing were the white waning gibbous moon, rising over the eastern hills and the stars directly overhead. The heat was so bad all day that it broke the inversion layer and the air was quite clear last night, leaving the city lights on both sides of the hills (Hollywood and the Valley) brilliant. Because of my responsibilities last year, I wasn't able to go to the Bowl at all, when I usually attend two to three times a summer. Last night was my first Bowl trip in over a year. Way too long. If I were ever to move away from Los Angeles, I'd have to plan a trip back every year to go to the Bowl a few times. It's one of my favorite places on the planet.

Sorry you couldn't all be there with me. But there just wasn't enough dessert.