Lowest Common Denominator: The 2012-2013 LA Phil Program

Let us examine the ‘Limitless LA Phil Walt Disney Hall 2012-2013’ program brochure.  What can we expect from one of the great orchestras in the United States?  How will LA audiences be exposed to musical culture?  The program of 31-pages states its motto: “Without restrictions there are only revelations,” then claims that the LA Philharmonic, led by Music Director Gustavo Dudamel, plans to offer a season that will “challenge convention” and provide “limitless” and far-reaching cultural enrichment.  The brochure advertises truly innovative programs.  Granted, stellar performances are on the musical horizon, such as Esa-Pekka Salonen leading London’s Philharmonia Orchestra in Lutoslawski’s dramatic Symphony No. 4 and Alban Berg’s ‘Wozzeck,’ and the return of Zubin Mehta conducting Mozart, Hindemith, and Dvorak.  And we can expect many famous performing artists: Itzhak Perlman, Helene Grimaud, Renee Fleming, Gil Shahan, and Lang Lang.  Aside from all Beethoven or all Rachmaninoff programs, most offerings are tailor made for LA audiences, that is, folks who equate classical music to movie soundtracks.  What were LA Phil music administrators thinking?  Perhaps this: how can we lure movie-going audiences with Stravinsky’s ‘The Firebird,’ Copland’s Organ Symphony, Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition,’ or Holst’s ‘The Planets’?  Is that the sound of Jupiter in celestial orbit or the dark-plotting Decepticon from Transformers?  And how might an audience react?  Perhaps this: are we to be showered with culture as we languish in Ravel’s ‘Mother Goose’ and Knussen’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are (with Video)’?  Indeed, Rachmaninoff’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme by Paginini’ was a movie theme song!  I’m sure there are more classics featured this next season that have served double duty as movie soundtracks (Ravel’s ‘Bolero,’ Brahms Sym. 4, and Wagner’s funeral music).  Why must our cultural offerings pay tribute to Hollywood?  Sure, the movie industry is a major contributor to LA’s cultural life, but must culture in LA be defined by the same criteria or tastes that determine movie distribution and profitability?  The tremendous irony of the LA Phil Program is that its offerings hardly challenge convention, and it hardly offers LA audiences challenging music.  In fact, Lang Lang is marketed as a former child phenomenon who shocked the globe with his talent, and Midori too, so the choice of crowd-pleasing artists also seems fairly conventional, if not mainstream.  Are we to understand the ‘Limitless’ in “Limitless LA Phil” to refer to a film soundtrack by that name or to truly innovative cultural opportunities?  Unfortunately, it would seem that the former is closer to the truth of what LA Phil music administrators believe LA audiences can handle or deserve.



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