Beethoven Symphony No 9 in D minor 'Choral'
Hollywood Bowl 18 July 2017 and Royal Albert Hall - BBC Proms - 30 July 2017
What a treat. In fact two Bowls of treats: one the Bowl of the Royal Albert Hall, filled to the brim with 5,000 people and the other the Hollywood Bowl filled to the brim with 17,500 people.
The Hollywood Bowl welcomed the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with its Music Director, Gustavo Dudamel, conducting. The Royal Albert Hall welcomed the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, with its principle guest conductor, Xian Zhang. Both were outstanding performances, rapturously received by the audience, but oh so very different!
Zhang’s performance was 10 minutes quicker than Dudamel’s, not least because in America the performance tends to be interrupted at the end of each movement by infernal and unnecessary applause from the Glyndebourne type audience eating picnics from their benches and tables. The Proms nearly managed an applause between movements two and three, but only because the principle artists came onto the stage and the applause was quickly muted by the hushing sound from the proms core audience standing in the stalls. Zhang really did take us on an express train ride. She pushed the 80 piece orchestra hard and they responded brilliantly - bar one or two poor trills from the brass section.
The 160 member chorus also responded outstandingly. This was a combined chorus of the BBC National Chorus of Wales and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra Chorus. The combination produced an outstanding quality of sound in the fourth movement, supported by the four principles led by the Canadian soprano, Erin Wall, together with the Kiwi tenor, Simon O’Neill, the Italian alto, Sonia Prina and the bass of the Russian, Alexandra Vinogradov. Whatever subtlety was lacking in Zhang’s performance was made up by the energy and sustained thrilling nature of the un-microphoned performance on stage.
Dudamel was also fortunate to have four American principles on stage led by the soprano, Amanda Majeski, together with the tenor, Issachah Savage, the mezzo soprano of J’Nai Bridges and the bass baritone of Ryan Speedo Green. The slightly smaller 19 member chorus was delivered by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, but the amplification in the Hollywood Bowl, which was substantial, enabled the whole audience to hear an outstanding sound from orchestra, principles and chorus alike. Dudamel’s reading of the score was careful and caring, if not somewhat eccentric at times and his pace choices were very much his own. The audience were treated in the Bowl to two large screens, mainly focused on the conductor, who seemed to delight the audience with every move and shake of his black curly locks. He is an outstanding performer – a rock star conductor – but give me the raw excitement of Zhang’s performance any day.
With kind regards,