When I was in college I took full advantage of student rush tickets and enjoyed wonderful evenings at the symphony and opera. One night, I went to see the Los Angeles Philharmonic perform a selection from Ravel, Gershwin and Bernstein specifically because I wanted to hear Bolero my favorite piece at the time. It was my first night with the LA Phil and it was electrifying. Not only was the performance of Bolero incredible but I developed a new love for George Gershwin which continues to today. Recently, the LA Phil performed another evening of Gershwin & Ravel and I was lucky enough to attend.
This was my first time hearing the LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall which is a most impressive venue. My only prior experience was for a pop concert and I was especially excited to finally hear the music it was specifically designed for. A pair of wonderful orchestra seats only sweetened the deal. The night featured two pieces each from Gershwin and Ravel conducted by Lionel Bringuier.
Gershwin’s Cuban Overture started the performance on an exuberant note. Inspired by the composer’s visit to Cuba it encapsulates the rhythms of the island in a rousing 10 minute piece featuring claves, güiro, maracas and bongos in addition to the usual brass and strings. Listening, I couldn’t help but dance in my seat to the rumba beat and secretly had the urge to start a conga line in the aisles.
After the overture we heard Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major featuring the pianist Hélène Grimaud. Although Bolero is a piece I love I’m actually not as familiar with Ravel’s other work and was surprised at how avant-garde this piece was. At times slow and melodic and at other times frantically disjointed it’s a piece like no other I’ve heard before. And Ms. Grimaud’s piano playing was magnificent. Using no sheet music her fingers flew over the keys at a frenetic pace – all while keeping perfect time with the orchestra. I was lucky enough to sit behind her and watching her skillful playing was a sight to behold.
Returning from intermission we heard the second Ravel of the evening Valses nobles e setinmentales and I must admit it was my least favorite piece of the night. A slow, sleepy waltz it was the complete opposite of Gershwin’s Cuban Overture and left me eager for the final piece, An American in Paris.
I was first introduced to an An American in Paris at that long ago performance and it immediately replaced Bolero as my favorite piece. It’s remained that way ever since and I was excited to hear the LA Phil perform it once again. What can I say? Perfection. When done well An American in Paris has the ability to transport me to the streets of Paris and fully engulf me in the City of Lights. That night I was no longer at Disney Hall but instead on the Champs-Élysées during the jazz age and it was wonderful.
Once again, the combination of the LA Phil, George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel made for a memorable evening. The LA Phil is an orchestra at the top of its game and I’m so lucky to be able to attend its performances. I can’t wait until the next one.