“Yuja Wang Plays Mozart” it said at the top of the program page, Friday night at Disney Hall, which seemed like burying the lead. What exactly was goi Read More
“Yuja Wang Plays Mozart” it said at the top of the program page, Friday night at Disney Hall, which seemed like burying the lead. What exactly was going to happen and why should we care? The second half of the concert seemed more newsworthy, the U.S. premiere of a big, new work for chorus and orchestra by Esa-Pekka Salonen.
It’s a terrific piece called “Karawane,” the name of the poem it uses as text. The poem was written by the Dadaist Hugo Ball in 1916 and, written in a “synthetic language,” it makes no sense. First line: “jolifanto bambla ô falli bambla.” In using a Ball text, Salonen is in good company. The Talking Heads set another of the writer’s poems for their song “I Zimbra.”
“Karawane” is a forceful work some 27 minutes in length, in two parts performed without pause. On first impression, it seems to have been written by a composer feeling his oats; that is, it is chock full of fresh ideas that seem to come one after another without hesitation. It also feels primal, as if it were an oratorio performed by a fictional tribe celebrating the harvest. The two composers that come to mind while listening to it (other than Salonen) were Orff and Revueltas.
It is beautifully orchestrated, voices and instruments combined in striking ways and plenty of percussion to add spice. Freed from the task of illustrating meaning, Salonen seems to have used the choir, much of the time, as another section of instruments in the orchestra. “Karawane” is a great “sound” piece, along the lines of “Daphnis and Chloe” and “The Firebird.”
The harmonies are vibrant and clear. Though modernistic jangling and jaggedness is never far away, the piece continues along a path that Salonen has been on for some time (at least since “LA Variations”) of finding an ever more simple and direct language. With its whispered mystery, racing pulses, whomping chords and fantastical decorations – Salonen said he imagined “a circus lost in time and space” – “Karawane” strikes this listener, first and foremost, as compelling and, yes, entertaining.
Its next scheduled performance is at the New York Philharmonic in March. Lionel Bringuier, who led the premiere of the work in Zurich last year, led it here with calm and incisive authority. The Los Angeles Master Chorale and Los Angeles Philharmonic responded with athletic agility and grace. (Salonen, who lives in L.A., was not on hand for the occasion; he’s currently in Paris conducting opera.)
Wang, donning a glamorous, tight-fitting gown, has pretty much avoided Mozart until recently. Those expecting disaster, if any, were ill-informed. She found no issues in the Piano Concerto No. 9, “Jeunehomme,” and plenty to enjoy, with flying, ebullient finger work, crisp turns and delicate, tender lyricism. Her musical imagination was ever engaged – she imbued everything with poetry; she turned the minuet in the finale into a dream – but propulsion was never lost.
Bringuier and the ensemble accompanied her with taut enthusiasm. Wang responded to the ovation with an encore, a jazz-inflected, pyrotechnically-inclined arrangement of Mozart’s “Turkish Rondo” (not the one by Volodos that she usually plays, I believe), dispatched with astonishing virtuosity.
The concert opened with Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of the Faun,” played neatly, clearly, safely. It came as close to being pedestrian as this piece can get.