Classically Trained: Visiting L.A., Vienna orchestras give grand O.C. performances

March 07, 2011|By Bradley Zint
  • Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on Saturday.
Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

There are times when the orchestra's sound is so fine — indeed, flawless — that it takes the form of the otherworldly. That delicate sound just floats above the stage at the whim of the conductor's fingertips, its invisible ghostly resonance seemingly of a mysterious origin.

And as amazing as everything else can be, these rare moments of quiet orchestral perfection strike me hardest. They're moments I wish I could relive. Freeze-frame. Return at needed opportune times.

That's how I best remember the refined grace of the fabled Vienna Philharmonic on Thursday night in Costa Mesa at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Vienna's sold-out visit to O.C. — thanks to the Philharmonic Society of Orange County — was a rare one, having been the Austrian group's first local performance since 2002 and, before that, 1997.

The orchestra, which dates to 1842, is storied as one of the world's best. It's no wonder why: In addition to achieving seamless, balanced tonal quality among the various orchestral elements large and small, its sound is like none other.


They tune differently, and some of the players use different models from the standard orchestral fare (namely the French horns and oboes). It's a bit brighter sound than most orchestras, though of translucent, gorgeous clarity.

I suppose it reminds me of the morning air after a night's rain, after the countless tiny droplets leave the place fresher than it was before. It's a renewed bloom from the everyday norms.

Thursday's program was simple: Mahler's Symphony No. 6, aka the "Tragic" one, under the baton of guest conductor Semyon Bychkov. It's a longwinded piece, and occasionally bombastic, whose four movements total some 80 minutes — not exactly light listening material.

And after seeing two ladies in front of me fidget for an hour before leaving mid-concert, I wondered if a few ill-informed folks only heard "Vienna" and expected, nay assumed, lovely waltzes.

Still, even if everlasting Mahler isn't your thing, for the vast majority of the audience with patience and discerning ears, it was a rich indulgence to hear this fine group in our town and on our stage.

The transfixing andante (chosen by Bychkov this time as the Sixth's third movement, rather than the second) was alone worth the price of admission. Vienna's signature string sound — periodically accented by solo woodwind and horn — brought an ethereal spell upon the hall.

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