Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Exultation: Mehta Comes Home

Michael Sedano

Popular wisdom, such as that derived from literature, seems always if not to get stuff wrong, to have it only approximately right. These thoughts were running through my head Sunday, December 16, as I took my seat at Disney Hall.

It was one of those days that serve as a constant reminder of what it means to be Zubin Mehta. What it means to be a great conductor.

Mehta came home to the L.A. Philharmonic to an absochingaolutely enchanted house. The orchestra obviously welcomed him with wide open arms. Played with the intensity and discipline of the 1970s, when fresh out of the Army I moved to Los Angeles to find Mehta conducting the Phil with Toscanini type control. When Mehta left for Manhattan in 78, Carlo Maria Giulini brought a different perspective. We’d gained as much as we’d lost with Giulini at the helm, but still, Mehta had left big footprints.

Esa Pekka Salonen, today’s director, is a puzzle. He conducts a beat ahead of the band. His arms—sometimes with the stick, sometimes not-- will be swinging wildly in anticipation of the next phrase while the orchestra is still playing a quiet passage, and vice versa. And he uses the safety rail on the podium. Mehta stands there feet firmly planted, he knows where he's at.

Mehta conducts on the beat in complete synchrony with what’s happening in the risers and on the page. Mas, Mehta’s seating chart places the Basses far right rather than alongside and above the Violins, giving both a more distinct presence. It helped that the orchestra was huge on Sunday, over a hundred musicians in contrast to Salonen’s 80 or so hands on a typical afternoon. Eight French Horns give a mighty sound! Salonen typically hires three or five.

Exultation is the only word for what transpired on that stage. It wasn’t that the audience had to take Mehta back. It was more, dang, bro, you’ve been away too long! But you haven’t lost a step. OK, he’s a lot older and more . . . substantial.

Los Angeles audiences invariably give standing ovations even for modest achievement. But the riot that greeted Mehta’s curtain calls had such wild spontaneity I guessed that gente had risen from the dead to attend this concert. I found it totally delightful that when Mehta walked out for his second call the horns gave forth a graceful fanfare that took Mehta by surprise. He was halfway to the podium when the Tuba sounded a single note then was joined in rich full chorus by the whole Brass section. Mehta stopped in mid stride, beamed up at them, then finished the walk.

I regret the prohibition of photography in the hall. This was truly an historic event that deserves to be memorialized beyond words and fading memories.

The Phil sells iPod/.mp3 recordings. I'm not a fan of Webern's unusual 6 Pieces for Large Orchestra, nor Richard Strauss--I'd have loved a night of Beethoven and Mahler's Hammer of God-- don't have to be, to want to order the concert to enjoy it all over again and again, to remember the day Mehta finally came home again. "Zubin?" Someone will ask me. "Alive!" will be all I'll answer.


And ahora en seguida vamos a ver que pasa con day eight of los 12 days of Xrismas. Adelante, RudyG! And remember, La Bloga enjoys guest columnists--check out Sunday's interesting contribution, Full Scale Parenting from Ann Hagman Cardinal. If you've a word or so to share, click here, or leave us a comment. See you next week. Wonder what I'm gonna get for Christmas? Come tell everybody if you saw mommy kissing you-know-who.

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