”Someday we shall all be free,“ Garth Brooks sang at the end of his stint at the Hollywood Bowl the other night, and the crowd of 11,000 or so sang along. The great entertainers do that: create a community around their art, whether Mitsuko Uchida holding a silent audience enraptured in a Schubert slow movement at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, or Garth Brooks in a cornball song anachronistically accompanied by a symphony-size orchestra. Going to the Garth Brooks concert wasn‘t a part of my regular beat, which is defined by the no-longer-workable term ”classical music.“ But I’m glad I went to the ”Opening Night Gala“ — in which Brooks and John Williams were inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame — because of that moment of togetherness near the end, which reminded me of the uniqueness of hearing music, any music, at the Bowl. The fireworks were pretty swell, too. (Don‘t go looking for the ”Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame,“ however. It’s not a building, like baseball‘s at Cooperstown; ”fame“ out here, as East Coast newspapers delight in pointing out, is fleeting.)
Under my so-called ”classical“ hat, I’m supposed to look down on the Bowl, and I have to admit that that‘s easily done. I’m willing to bet that Martin Bernheimer left the L.A. Times because he‘d run out of nasty ways of describing the Bowl experience — e.g., ”slushpump“ as the catchall word for Russian Romanticism. The problems remain: the hazards of hearing music through outdoor amplification no matter how state-of-the-art, the air traffic, the bottles rolling down concrete steps, and now the cell phones — which have lately become an indoor hazard as well. It’s ironic, sort of, that these days, when the only chance of hearing music free of outside interference is on the stereo at home, the classical-record industry is drifting toward oblivion.
Okay, so it isn‘t easy to love the Bowl wholeheartedly. Love it at least partially, however, and you should be able to derive some heartsease in what lies ahead. Let’s examine the schedule. Four Beethoven symphonies (Nos. 3, 6, 8 and 9)! That‘s one more than we got during the entire winter season downtown, and don’t try to tell me that any performance of a Beethoven symphony isn‘t an event. A great and too-seldom-heard Mozart piano concerto (K. 503)! The Bartok Concerto for Orchestra: Do you think that counts as ”light summer listening“? Or the Dvorak Eighth? Or what about a complete Madama Butterfly, this very weekend?
No, Madama Butterfly isn’t my favorite opera, and maybe it isn‘t yours. But look at the fine print. John Mauceri will conduct, with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra that was formed as his personal plaything nine years ago. Mauceri is known as a major opera conductor the world over, has led performances as close as Costa Mesa and San Diego, but not in Los Angeles. Two years ago he had a Turandot scheduled for the Bowl, but was obliged to cancel it when the Philharmonic’s incoming-and-now-outgone managing director, Willem Wijnbergen, determined (wrongly) that the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra wasn‘t up to performing complete operas. For that reason alone (and there will surely be others), this Butterfly is certainly worth your attention. Besides, where else can you hear live Italian opera set in Japan, while dining on sushi or pasta at the same time?
I like this summer’s list of guest conductors. We start with Leonard Slatkin, a hometown boy now world-famous. I wish he were doing more serious American music, which is his forte. I wish he weren‘t doing Pictures at an Exhibition — music I’m just plain tired of hearing; but at least he‘s doing his own version of Mussorgsky’s album of chromos. Paul Daniel, who conducts the second week, is new here, but he has recorded a lot (for Naxos and Decca) and is music director of the English National Opera. Robert Levin, a marvelous Mozart player, will be soloist in the aforementioned K. 503 on the Tuesday program (July 18). On Thursday — solid concert programming — Ursula Oppens, heroine of piano music new and old, will play Beethoven‘s ”Emperor“ Concerto, and Daniel will end the program with the Bartok Concerto.
Junichi Hirokami, the remarkable, diminutive Japanese conductor who has inspired rave notices from me in the past, indoors and out, takes over in the third week. His repertory for both Tuesday and Thursday is somewhat on the slushpump side (including, alas, the Rach 3, by a pianist with the interesting and appropriate name of Lang Lang), but I’ll bet Hirokami will make the Tchaikovsky Fifth sit up and dance if anyone can. Bring binoculars; he has the most expressive left hand in the business.
Denmark‘s Thomas Dausgaard conducts Cesar Franck’s D-minor Symphony on August 1: noisy pretentiousness that seems to have dropped out of favor in the repertory but might be worth hearing just once more, especially with the excellent Louis Lortie to render an antidote via Chopin‘s F-minor Piano Concerto later in the program. Dausgaard himself makes amends the next Thursday with Beethoven and Brahms; the landscape around the Bowl, with its many ”secret“ places, affords the perfect hiding place for the offstage trumpet in the Third Leonore Overture. The Netherlands’ Hans Vonk, currently head of the St. Louis Symphony and, therefore, a man to conjure with, begins his stint on August 8. Vonk made a fine debut here a few months ago; I would expect eloquent readings of the Beethoven ”Eroica“ on Tuesday and the ”Pastoral“ two days later.
And so it goes. Mexico‘s Enrique Diemecke, who has been here before, gets one Latino program (including the inevitable Bolero) and one pure slushpump; guess at which one you’ll see me. The roster of incoming conductors also embraces Stefan Sanderling, son of the much-loved Kurt; the San Jose Symphony‘s Leonid Grin, who stepped in for the ailing Franz Welser-Most two seasons ago; and Zdenek Macal, who has built the New Jersey Symphony into an important organization in recent years. And finally — as if he needed another string on his bow — none other than Itzhak Perlman turns up for the Bowl’s last classical week, conducting and playing, and surely imbuing both aspects of his work with the robust romanticism that is his musical signature.
All this and not a single preteen fiddle-sawing moppet on the horizon; the prospect up in Cahuenga Pass looks, well, passable. Bring on the copters, bring on the emptys; I‘m ready, and you should be, too.