By Truman C. Wang
For five years, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla has been a rising star at the L.A. Phil, moving from a Dudamel Fellow to Associate Conductor today. The classical music world needs more women conductors, not for political reasons, but for the special sensitivity and sensibilities that a woman might bring to the standard repertoire. When Mirga conducted Tchaikovsky’s Fourth last season, it was a reading of steel and velvet that benefited from a woman’s touch.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 is one of his only two piano concertos in the minor mode. It’s not a sad or dark piece (beyond the brooding opening bars), but rather philosophical in nature, perhaps to signal the end of his disappointing final subscription concert season in Vienna. Pianist Stephen Kovacevich got through the C-minor turbulence with perfect poise and poetic refinement, conveying the shades of autumn without too much melancholy. He was accompanied by Mirga’s equally sensitive conducting on the podium, molding and caressing every line and phrase with her expressive hands. Mozart might have written the work in the dark moments of his life, but this performance illuminated the silver lining that escapes other players.
A surprise encore of a Bach Sarabande was announced by Mr. Kovacevich for Mirga (because “it’s her birthday!”) who turned 31 on Sunday and, perhaps not coincidentally, would conclude the concert with Haydn’s Symphony No. 31.
But before the Haydn, we were treated to a quartet of alpine horns in the Concerto Grosso No.1 by Georg Friedrich Haas, featuring the Hornroh Modern Alphorn Quartet from Munich, Germany. It’s a substantial work lasting some thirty minutes. The sight of four supersized smoke-pipe instruments on stage added visual interest to the work even before the music started. Once these alphorns started playing, the echoes of their deep throaty sound bounced off of the walls of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. One could almost envision a giant sailboat gliding over the Alpine meadows in the same fashion as Hayao Miyasaki’s whimsical animated classic “Castle in the Sky”.
Haydn’s Symphony No. 31 (“Hornsignal”), whether by happenstance or design, also features four horns, here played beautifully by the L.A. Phil horn section. Joining the party were also the solo flute, violin, cello and, in the seventh variation of the finale, the double bass. That’s an impressive number of solos for a symphony, which was written by Haydn to showcase the many individual players of Prince Esterhazy’s Orchestra. Thanks to Mirga’s birthday, we had a chance to sample this rare symphony that would otherwise not be heard. The performance was breezy and full of good-natured fun.
It was announced in the program notes that Mirga has been appointed Principal Conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra, an old post once held by Sir Simon Rattle. We wish her Godspeed and return to L.A. often.
Truman C. Wang is Editor-in-Chief of Classical Voice, whose articles have appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Pasadena Star-News, other Southern California publications, as well as the Hawaiian Chinese Daily.