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Music review: Gustavo Dudamel's Mozart night at the Hollywood Bowl

07.20.11
Gil Shaham
Los Angeles Times

By Mark Swed

Gustavo Dudamel was joined by violinist Gil Shaham in an all-Mozart program Tuesday night at the Hollywood Bowl. For this, even “Carmageddon” wouldn’t have kept the crowd away. The box office tally was 9,236, around the same number as the attendance last week for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s opening concert with Dudamel and superstar pianist Lang Lang. Happily, perennially, Mozart still sells.

It shouldn’t have been too hard to know what to expect. Two years ago, for one of his first set concerts at Walt Disney Concert Hall as the orchestra’s music director, Dudamel led an energetic yet airy account, topped with a creamy Viennese sound, of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony, which also closed Tuesday’s Bowl program. On that Disney occasion Shaham had been soloist with Dudamel in Berg’s Violin Concerto. Tuesday his vehicle was Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto (“Turkish”).

But the Bowl is not a concert hall, and the larger the audience, the merrier (and antsier). The weather too was nice, but this was not necessarily a night for niceties. The skies were dotted with buzzing aircraft ignoring the no-fly space regulations over the Bowl.

Dudamel’s Mozart was generally happy, upbeat and, to begin, comic. He opened with the overture to the opera “The Abduction From the Seraglio.” People were still traipsing in, finding their seats. Box sitters were just getting around to taking down their tables and turning around their chairs. These are not graceful activities, and a video director could have had a lot of fun filming them to Mozart’s bouncy score as a Chaplinesque parody of the expectant, angelic audience faces Ingmar Bergman showed during the overture to his movie version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
Grace did find its way into the concerto. Shaham is known for his gorgeous tone, and sweet his playing was. Dudamel, who conducted all evening without a score, seemed happy to accommodate Shaham’s dessert-first approach in the first movement, and dessert again in a heavenly lyrical Adagio, taken plenty slow.

This was no light dessert. The cadenzas were by the violinist Joseph Joachim, Brahms’ friend, and incongruously Romantic-period are they for this Classic-period score. The last movement is where the Turkish business comes in. Here things became, especially from the Philharmonic, fascinatingly raucous, as if the time had come to work off all those musical calories.

The orchestra strings became rhythmically raspy, interacting with an ever more excitable Shaham. Rock ’n’ roll would have been a next step.

And it almost was when Shaham returned for an encore with the orchestra, his own arrangement of a traditional Turkish number, “Nihavend Longa,” completing the Turkish theme that had begun with the Overture. The violinist has made a winning showpiece, showy enough for the audience to whoop during its most dazzling passages. Dudamel, having gone through the remarkable trouble to memorize even this bonbon, appeared as carried away as his audience.

The “Jupiter” had many of the hallmarks of Dudamel’s Disney performance. Even so, much has changed as well in two years, and what works indoors is different from what works outdoors. The Viennese sound, at least under the sonic microscope of amplification, was not so apparent, but Dudamel still took a full-sized symphonic approach rather than something more in keeping with period performance practice. He remained on the weighty side for the Andante, but he made it sing. The Menuetto was even more leisurely and airier than before, as if floating on the soft breeze that rippled the Bowl’s flags.

The enthusiastic energy of the contrapuntal Finale was most winning of all. Rehearsal time is very limited for Bowl concerts, yet Dudamel brought out buried details, experimented with bold orchestral colors, accented with dogged enthusiasm and made a rousing rush for the finish line.

Mozart draws, but Mozart at the Bowl is often asked to serve, as in a wine commercial, as moon-bathed background music for a bottle of Beaujolais. Dudamel may have had to force the issue somewhat, but he put the “Jupiter” in center of the universe, where, this night, it belonged.