A few years ago I did an extensive, year-long search for an orchestra conductor. One candidate’s remark still resonates long after the search was successfully completed. This young conductor told me that, contrary to the traditional thinking of serious and staid classical performance, if orchestras weren’t playing with all the joy and abandon they could muster, there had better be something pretty spectacular going on on the stage, from start to finish, because otherwise, audiences would be leaving the music hall in droves. Why? Because audiences today are used to, and expect “wows” with every note. We are way too over-stimulated to sit still and watch the paint dry.
Last night we had the pleasure of hearing and seeing the Philadelphia Orchestra, presented in high definition (HD) at the Palme d’Or Cinema at the Westfield Mall. Seeing an orchestra concert filmed live in HD with surround sound can actually be pretty exciting, due to the opportunity for up close observation. The 2nd oboist had a nervous tic. The french horns were all women. The bassoonist had to wear some sort of shoulder harness. Seeing how the conductor actually communicates with the musicians can add a curious and satisfying dimension to what we hear in a performance. Every conductor is unique and capable of creating a discernible difference in orchestra performance. When John Williams was conductor of the Boston Pops, it was common knowledge that the orchestra did not like him. It was front and center when they played for him.
Under the dazzling baton of Montreal native Yannick Nézet-Séguin, this Philadelphia Orchestra concert was up close and personal, delivering one WOW after the other. It was obvious that this orchestra really likes their leader. The programme represented Nezet-Seguin’s fresh approach to programming which was explained during the post concert conversation – yet another innovative approach that orchestras now use to engage us. Yannick’s philosophy is to pair seemingly unrelated selections but which do indeed have common threads as he explained in the post concert interview. The idea works and we, the audience, benefit by learning more about what we are hearing.
I’m telling you about this beautiful concert in the hopes that it will be presented more than once, as many of Palme d’Ors offerings are. Do check the listings.
In this particular concert, Nézet-Séguin paired the Mahler Symphony #1 with the Korngold Violin Concerto. Who, you ask? If you don’t recognize Erich Korngold’s name you will likely recognize his music – he is considered the father of film music, having written such memorable film scores as Captain Blood, The Green Pastures, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Between Two Worlds, and Of Human Bondage, to name a few. Those who do recognize his film scores probably don’t know that he was also a prolific and serious romantic composer.
On the flip side, I wasn’t aware that Gustav Mahler was considered the inspiration for most early film music. Who knew? What an exciting pairing. Besides which, if you are like many who immediately think Mahler: heavy, modern, dissonant, ugg – wrong. There is nothing more delightful, harmonic, and sensible than the Mahler First. It’s gorgeous and satisfying from beginning to end.
Guest artist Hiliary Hahn, an extraordinary violinist, gloriously executed the extremely difficult Korngold Concerto on her 1865 Vuillaume Violin. What a big fat tone she gets out of her instrument. Of course, she should have been, and would have been, the highlight of the concert, had the charming and effervescent Yannick not stolen the evening with his riveting interpretation of the Mahler. I have NEVER, EVER heard a symphony concert audience erupt in cheers the way this one did at the end of the performance. One would have thought the Phillies had just scored a triple. WOW, WOW, and triple WOW. (Thank you Palme d’Or for giving us such a thrill.)
This new crop of fabulous young conductors on the American Symphonic Scene is putting excitement into orchestra performance like never before. Whether it’s Gustavo Dudamel with the LA Phil, Alan Gilbert from the NY Philharmonic or young Yannick Nézet-Séguin from the Philadelphia Orchestra, we need not fear that classical music is a thing of the past. These young Turks are kicking ass and taking no prisoners. So if you can’t see an orchestra live, you can still enjoy dozens of fabulous offerings at The River Cinemas in Rancho Mirage, the Camelot Theater in Palm Springs, or the Palme d’Or at Westfield Mall in Palm Desert.
In addition, the Palme provides three plus months of scheduling on their website, so you can actually plan accordingly. How nice! In particular The Palme goes above and beyond to provide a wide variety of programming that more and more has included classical choices in ballet, opera, theater and concerts as well as their usual array of the best in cinema – not just the latest explosive, car-crash, box office bang-ups. Also, I should not have been surprised to see listed in general release right now, two films that we previewed at the International Film Festival in January – Fill The Void and The Kon Tiki (actually quite scary.)
A few recommendations I might make in the coming schedule are:
The Palme: The National Theater Live presents Helen Mirren in “The Audience,” reprising her role as Queen Elizabeth II as she, from young mother to grandmother, meets with each of her prime ministers in an imagined set of conversations. June 13 live @ 11 am; repeats June 20 4 pm & June 25, 6:30. I can’t wait for this one. Also watch for Otello Sept 26 and Kenneth Branagh as Macbeth October 17 & 24.
The Palme: If you prefer ballet or opera you can choose the Paris Opera Ballet Series throughout June and July, including La Sylphide, Fallstaff, The Magic Flute or Carmen.
Fine Art anyone?
How about great art on the big screen? That’s different. The Palme – July 6th, 12:00 pm will offer a first: a behind-the-scenes look at putting together and seeing an art exhibition – in this case the work of Edvard Munch (The Scream) as celebrated in Norway on Munch’s 150 anniversary.
The River will offer – October 10, 7:30 pm from The National Gallery, London a major exhibition on one of the most startling and fascinating artists of all-time, Johannes Vermeer, most popularly known as the painter of the Girl with a Pearl Earring. Vermeer painted little more than 30 works that still exist, and the National Gallery has chosen to focus on his art in relation to music. Music was one of the most popular themes of Dutch painting and revealed an enormous amount about the sitter and the society. Not to be missed.
Summer at The River Cinemas also will be offering a full schedule of Live At The Met Opera Encores, including Carmen (stand-out MET performance) June 19; Ill Trovatore, June 26; Armida, July 10th; and La Traviata, July 17th. The River is also showing Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece Swan Lake live from the Mariinsky Theatre, Thursday, June 6th at 6:30 pm. If you’ve never seen a ballet, this is the one to see.
The Palme will also show the Philadelphia Orchestra with Simon Rattle conducting Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, June 26th @ 6:30 pm.
So as we head into the summer season there is no reason to lament the inevitable heat. And don’t tell me there’s nothing to do! I’ve barely scratched the surface and given you plenty of links to source even more options. Theaters struggle to fill seats during the summer, but unfortunately they don’t market these cultural gems very well. I believe more folks would attend these stellar performances if there was better exposure to their target market. So there. I’m doing my bit.
Don’t forget Palm Springs Restaurant Week is May 31 June 16th. Palm Desert Restaurant Week is May 31 – June 9th. May I suggest you eat, drink and be merry. With all the lovely culture Coachella Valley has to offer why wouldn’t you?