Sometimes they promise you "Mozart Under the Stars" and - well, it's just a foggy night.
On Thursday night conductor Nicholas McGegan led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in an all-Mozart program, featuring violinist Bomsori Kim performing Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5. Other works on the program included the Overture to Don Giovanni and for the second half, the ever-familiar Symphony No. 38, K. 504, "Prague."
In his 35-year life, Mozart wrote a staggering number of compositions - some 600 works - and Tuesday night's program represented some of his best. Mozart's music is clever, beautiful, elegant - and deceptively difficult to pull off. Ask any artist of any genre: beauty in simplicity is hard-won. When you set up your ducks to be in such a tidy row, it's all too easy to see if one little duck stepped out of line, or even is just tilting his little head.
Precarious thing, an all-Mozart program.
McGegan spoke from the podium at the start of the concert, explaining that the Overture to Don Giovanni was one of those works that the genius composer wrote in about two hours, after a long night drinking "punch" - and leaving the orchestra to sight-read it that night. It begins with the ominous music that accompanies the wayward Don Giovanni's descent to hell but soon snaps into a bouncy and playful mood.
This overture was originally conceived for a small ensemble that would be playing in an orchestra pit for an opera. Here members of the LA Phil were playing in a venue that seats 17,000+ - a small ensemble in a very big Bowl. Even with excellent sound engineering and giant screens to help the audience see up-close, I found it hard to get that feeling of intimacy in such a large outdoor space.
Next was violinist Bomsori, who plays on the 1725 "ex-Moller" Guarneri del Gesù violin and in 2021 released the recording Violin on Stage with Deutsche Grammophon. Earlier this summer she played the Bruch Concerto with the BBC Philharmonic in her BBC Proms debut.
This performance started well, with Bomsori adding in some of her own touches during the opening Adagio, but the performance just never reached a satisfying level of comfort, often feeling like a struggle, with Bomsori pushing the tempo in the outer movements, the orchestra nearly missing the end of her cadenza, and some missed marks with the notes during the Adagio. I've heard Bomsori play extremely well - but like the fog over the Bowl, I think it was just an off night.
Things went better in the final half of the concert, with a slightly larger ensemble playing the Symphony No. 38. Here there was more agreement and polish. As the first movement's syncopations clicked into place, Mozart's music began to unfold with ease. In this musical world, any darkness was just a passing shadow. The second movement had the sense of flowing like water, with its gentle chromatic cascades, and the last-movement Presto brought some nice passagework in the strings.
Somehow the spaciousness of the venue stopped mattering - once the music really got going, it all felt immediate. To be sure, it was still a foggy night. But I knew the stars were still up there.
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