Last night at Disney Hall, while conducting Dvorák's Cello Concerto in B minor with soloist Alisa Weilerstein, Gustavo Dudamel pulled a muscle in his neck and was unable to return for the second half of the program. Deborah Borda, CEO of the L.A. Philharmonic Association, appeared onstage after an unusually long intermission to announce that Gustavo was "in tremendous pain backstage" and then led the audience in a collective, impassioned sigh.
Associate Conductor, 23-year-old Lionel Bringuier, stepped in to lead the Phil in Tchaikovsky's "Pathétique" Symphony, the last work of the tortured composer's career -- Tchaikovsky died a little over a week after the 1893 world premiere.
To see a 23-year-old conduct one of the most emotionally charged symphonies by the Russian composer -- a piece written, perhaps, as a prelude to death, dedicated to the nephew with whom he was in love -- would have been even more unbelievable had 28-year-old Weilerstein and 29-year-old Dudamel not graced the stage with their impressive precociousness in the first half.
Weilerstein's Disney Hall debut demonstrated the ease and confidence of a musician who has been performing publicly since childhood. She played Tchaikovsky's "Rococo" Variations with the Cleaveland Orchestra at age 13 and has been performing across the U.S. and Europe since.
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Adorned in a cardinal-red dress which poured around her like a cape, Weilerstein expressed fierce concentration in preparation for her entrance during the first movement's opening section -- a dirge-like exposition punctuated by a poignant horn solo, played by William Lane.
In his second and last cello concerto, Dvorák augments the brass section with three trombones and a tuba -- instruments that are naturally louder than the cello and also played in the same register -- which presents a challenge for the soloist. But Weilerstein always managed to emerge, however powerfully or tenderly, her impeccable technique in the upper registers and the richness of her tone stunning the Hall into a standing ovation.
Dudamel returned to Disney Hall to conduct the 11 a.m. concert with Weilerstein and the L.A. Phil this morning, perhaps the perfect gift to Tchaikovsky on the 170th anniversary of his birth, and is expected to be there tomorrow night for the final performance of this program.