Summer is the time for outdoor music. Yesterday, the Tiny Goddess and I did one of our favorite things: we watched a morning rehearsal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl.
The Bowl is a great LA institution and a wonderful place to hear music. I've seen some spectacular shows there – the Van Morrison "Astral Weeks" show, The Who's first show after the death of the Ox (John Entwistle), Al Green, plus many LA Philharmonic concerts. The sound quality is quite excellent: sometimes you can't believe the tonal clarity, considering it's an outdoor venue. The only sound problems are from occasional planes and helicopters overhead, and the odd police siren or fire alarm.
The rehearsal was for an interesting program: Bernstein and Bizet. The Bernstein selection was new to me: his SERENADE (AFTER PLATO'S "SYMPOSIUM") from 1954. Angular music, much like his score for ON THE WATERFRONT from that same year. Would I rather have heard the Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story" or the Overture to "Candide" or Fancy Free? Of course! But it was interesting to hear some new, if minor, Lenny.
The Bizet was the CARMEN SUITE (AFTER BIZET), set by Rodion Shchedrin, a Russian composer who was the husband of the legendary ballerina Maya Plisetskaya and created this arrangement for her. Bizet's opera is what I call a "greatest hits" opera; it basically goes from one hit tune to another, virtually without pause. That is why it is one of the most popular operas in the world. I have seven recordings including the Carmens of Maria Callas, Victoria de los Angeles, Grace Bumbry, Giulietta Simionato, Leontyne Price; the Don Joses of Franco Corelli, Nicholai Gedda, and Jon Vickers; with conductors like Sir Thomas Beecham and Herbert von Karajan ... but my favorite recording is the 1949 version from the Opera Comique, conducted by Andre Cluytens with Solange Michel, Raoul Jobin, and a cast of real French singers. No other record has that tang, that je-ne-sais-quoi of this tale of life in the gutter. Even though CARMEN is set in Seville, it's a totally French opera.
Everybody knows a little CARMEN – from "Torea-dora, don't split on the floor-a" to the children's chorus used in THE BAD NEWS BEARS to The Marx Brothers' COCONUTS ("I want my shirt, I want my shirt....) and a million cartoons.
The real attraction of this rehearsal was another chance to see one of our favorite new conductors and a rising star in the classical music world: MIRGA GRAZINYTE-TYLA. Or just call her "Mirga." Only twenty-nine, this Lithuanian blonde is a real musician and on her way to a big career. She worked closely with the orchestra, interrupted them more than Dudamel usually does, working on details. She stopped a few times to consult sound technicians in the front of the house. She seemed very efficient, all in black, working some difficult measures several times until she got the sound she wanted.
The TG packed a nice breakfast (coffee, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, etc.), and it was so overcast this morning – "June gloom?" – that we didn't even have to put up our umbrella for shade. It was actually better, cooler.
I think about some of the other outdoor shows I've seen over the years. Long ago, there was music at the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park, and I saw The Byrds with Delaney and Bonnie as the opening act (!), with King Curtis, two weeks before he died ... and Arlo Guthrie (proving that he was a worthy son to Woody). And there was a fantastic outdoor show at the Music Inn in Stockbridge, Mass, with David Bromberg and Tom Rush. And a legendary free Grateful Dead show on a hillside at Wesleyan University in 1970 during the Vietnam student protests after the shootings at Kent State University. Van Morrison on some pier in the Hudson River. AIDA at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. I'm sure there are more...
I've actually seen more shows at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles than the Hollywood Bowl. It's about one-third the size of the Bowl (5,870 for the Greek vs. 17,376 for the Bowl), it's closer to my home, and it's where Alison Krauss plays when she's in town.
And I do have speakers in my backyard. I guess that counts as "outdoor music." Right?
Here are some goodies:
Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla conducting a German chorus
Leonard Bernstein conducting the Symphonic Dances from "West Side Story"
Leonard Bernstein conducts the Overture to "Candide"
"Carmen" Suite by the Singapore National Youth Orchestra
David Bromberg – "Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair" – from the Capitol Theatre in Passaic – 4/15/77
The Ox's great bass solo in "5:15"
Maya Plisetskya dancing the "Carmen Suite" – with the Bolshoi Ballet – 1987 (at the age of 62!!!)