Music: Chapela Adams Prokofiev Dudamel LA Philharmonic

It was a big night at the San Francisco symphony tonight. The first of two special appearances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Gustavo Dudamel.

The first indication of what might follow in the programme of John Adams (Short Ride in a Fast Machine), a cello concerto commission by composer Chapela and Prokofiev Symphony No.5 could be found in the Symphony Shop where concert goers stood and stared at DVD footage from the inaugural concert of the LA Phil’s 2009 season. I was stunned when I looked up at the screen. Then I turned around and saw others doing the same as me. That said something. There a buzz about the place a good hour before the concert was scheduled to start.

In comparison to UK concert going experiences, my first trip to the Davies Symphony (home of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra) was a strikingly different affair. People were dressed up for a night out, milling around the vast and luxurious interior ahead of the concert.

There was no queue at the bar and no mad scrum to get into the concert hall before the music began. Not surprisingly the concert began a little past the advertised start time.

The performance also presented some interesting observations. Music by American composers are bound to go down a storm here, especially during a season marking 100 years of US arts-related history (the LA Phil were appearing as part of the San Francisco Symphony’s American Orchestras season). And if that music is rhythmic and loud in places, then its bound to raise a smile too. If the composer is in the house to receive the applause at the end, then the crowd will be enthusiastic too. Little wonder John Adams got a standing ovation at the end of Short Ride in A Fast Machine.

But it didn’t stop there. Cello soloist Johannes Moser also received enthusiastic applause (and a standing ovation) for his second performance of Chapela’s Magnetar. Conductor Dudamel (minus his score) got the same response at the end of the Prokofiev symphony.

Was that seemingly unbridled enthusiasm deserved? A cynic may stop to think.

Before I came out to the States I attended an equally breathtaking concert given by the Academy of Ancient Music at Cadogan Hall in London. No one stood to applaud there even though the performance was just as deserving. But in the Davies Symphony Hall the audience were keen to show their appreciation. And that was infectious. Of the LA Phil’s applause the Significant Other was probably on the button when he said to me afterwards “That’s the sign of a differently funded cultural scene for you.”

Maybe he’s right, in part. Maybe the appreciation reflects the personal investment a considerably higher number of the audience that UK concert-goers.

But that’s not the only reason. The LA Phil are amazing. They’re not so much a collection of orchestral players convening on a stage, as a collection of players making something organic create an amazing variety of sounds and demonstrating taut precision and exquisite flexibility all at the same time. The kind of band you hear playing for only five minutes and know you’d feel confident throwing any music at them to sight-read. The LA Phil is a kind of ultra-orchestra on demand promising a breathtaking performance every time they play.

I’m gushing. Maybe I should be more objective. I can’t. The fact is that the coda section in Prokofiev 5 set my heart pumping like crazy because of the energy Dudamel was drawing out of the band in the final bars. He was careful not to make it his show, skipping off the stage seconds after the first run of applause. A true gent. A real master.

Listen to an Audioboo recorded at the concert (mp3)

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