Sometimes the stars line up, and you get lucky. Last week, the Tiny Goddess and I got very lucky and saw – in the span of 48 hours – two of the greatest musicians on the planet, two of our favorites: ITZHAK PERLMAN and VAN MORRISON.
And speaking of stars-lining-up, I just discovered the wonderful fact that Itzhak and Van were BORN ON THE VERY SAME DAY: August 31, 1945. What a fantastic day for music!
(The only comparable day I can think of is February 12, 1809, the day that both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born. That was one of the better days in human history. If anyone out there knows of any other significant simultaneous birthdays, please tell me.)
Perlman played at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and Morrison played at the Shrine. I approached both concerts with some trepidation. Both Itzhak and Van – might as well be on a first name basis – are world-famous, lavishly praised musicians who, despite all the adulation, are not immune from criticism. Itzhak has been disparaged for "phoning it in" for years, being more interested in celebrity and personal honors than artistic growth, and generally failing to rise to the heights demanded of he who aspires to don the mantel of Kreisler and Heifitz as the "World's Greatest Violinist."
We've seen Perlman a few times before, most notably in a thrilling "Super Trio" concert with Vladimir Ashkenazy on piano and Lynn Harrell on cello in New York at the Avery Fisher Hall. They won a Grammy for their record of the Tchaikovsky that we saw. They all played brilliantly, but Perlman's tone was beyond gorgeous.
This time, at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Perlman was playing and conducting: playing and conducting Mozart and conducting only the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5. I wish that he had played a little more. Two nights before, he had played a strenuous recital with pianist Emanuel Ax. I wish we had seen that one, but it was part of the "Celebrity Series," and we subscribe to the Saturday Night #2 Series.
But what playing he did was lovely. Simple, but eloquent. He made great music, playing and leading the musicians whose love and respect for him I could feel from the Front Terrace. His conducting of the Tchaikovsky Symphony was very good, too. He kept it together for the entire 50 minutes, which is more than I can say for some other "celebrity" conductors.
Here, courtesy of YouTube, is, sort-of, the entire concert we saw:
Perlman plays Mozart's Adagio in G major, K. 261 with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Perlman plays Mozart's Rondo in C major, K. 373 with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Mozart Symphony No. 27, K. 199 – played by the Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice, conducted by Stefano Montanari
Leonard Bernstein conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 – Perlman needed a score; Bernstein did not. Lenny's a big ham, but he gets beautiful music out of the BSO. At 17:21, at the beginning of the second movement, is the gorgeous theme that became Andre Kostelanetz' pop hit "Moon Love."
No encore. No "Rosalita." (Very seldom do you get encores in the classical world, except at individual recitals.)
I wish that Itzhak had come back with his violin, but he didn't. He's 70, and I think he was worn out from the 50-minute symphony. I know that I was.
Now Van is another story.
I've blogged before on Van before --
and the song "Madame George" from ASTRAL WEEKS
-- so don't want to repeat myself too much, but ...
Van is basically my favorite modern popular musician. To quote myself: "There may be better songwriters (Bob Dylan), better singers (Ray Charles), or better performers (Bruce Springsteen) than Van, but no one's music pleases me more in its totality than the Belfast Cowboy's."
But, in concert, Van has always been an iffy proposition. Van's incommunicative stage manner as well as indifferent setlists that offer three routine genre tunes for every Van masterpiece have made his live shows a decidedly mixed bag. When he's engaged in his singing, he's masterful. When he's disinterested, he shows it.
The TG and I have seen about thirty-five Van Morrison shows – I've lost the exact count – since our first show at Carnegie Hall in the spring of 1972 when we first got together. (The opening act was Nils Lofgren's band Grin.) We've seen great shows and so-so shows, but I'm happy to say that the show we saw on Saturday night at the Shrine was a great one. It belongs on my short list of the best with:
-- a 1973 show at the Avery Fisher Hall with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra – Van with a rock band on one side and a string quartet on the other – sublime music captured on his first live album IT'S TOO LATE TO STOP NOW
-- a 1980 show, again at Avery Fisher Hall, with Van promoting his great INTO THE MUSIC album – a magical night with a big band
-- a 2008 show at the Hollywood Bowl – Van recreating his magnificent ASTRAL WEEKS album
This show at the Shrine was different. The band was small, for Van. Four musicians plus himself, and only one back-up singer. No brass section, no second guitarist. I've seen him with many more people onstage, making a lusher, more layered sound. This night, with no brass, Van had to play a lot of sax himself (not my favorite) and absolutely no guitar (something I do like).
But it didn't matter: what mattered was his commitment to singing every song with conviction. Perhaps it was the fact that backstage was a peer whom he wanted to impress (pun intended): fellow knight Sir Tom Jones.
I've seen it before at LA shows: singers trying to impress their friends, backstage or in the audience. (I saw the notoriously inconsistent Aretha Franklin burn up the stage at the House of Blues in Hollywood to impress her friend Natalie Cole in the balcony.)
Sir Van even brought Sir Tom onstage for two songs – one they had recorded together previously, "Sometimes We Cry," and another one, "I'm Not Feeling It Anymore." Van is 70, but Tom is 75!! And they sang with joy and energy and made actual good, spontaneous music. As Walter Kerr used to say, "The audience was beside itself with pleasure."
One of the best things about Van in concert is that he comes from jazz roots where he never sings a song the same way twice. Every performance – when he's on – is a creative act. And that's how it was on Saturday. He created new music right in front of 6,200 people. I could tell that we were in for a special night on the third song when Van covered Ray Charles' "I Believe to My Soul," and he really dug into it. I knew that if Van was hot on the third song, we were in for a great ride.
Randy Lewis in The Los Angeles Times put it nicely in a review of Friday night's show:
"All in all, Morrison's performance was a thoroughly invigorating celebration of music, and by extension, of life that arrived just when many of us needed it most."
Close Enough For Jazz
I Believe To My Soul
Baby Please Don't Go/Parchman Farm/Don't Start Crying Now
In the Afternoon
Sometimes We Cry w/Tom Jones
I'm Not Feelin It Anymore w/Tom Jones
Rough God Goes Riding w/Shana Morrison
Old Black Magic w/Shana Morrison
All In The Game/Time is Running Out/Waiting Game/No Plan B/Burning Ground
In the Mystic
Big Hand for The Band!
Dave Keary (Guitar)
Paul Moore (Bass)
Paul Moran (Keyboards)
Bobby Ruggiero (Drums)
Dana Masters (Vocals)
Shana Morrison (Guest Vocals)
Here is a hefty serving of Van:
The Frames'/ONCE's Glen Hansard meets Van Morrison – the classic Van story – a must
Van sings "Caravan" with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra
Van and The Band sing "Caravan" from THE LAST WALTZ
Van sings "Ballerina" – from the Hollywood Bowl "Astral Weeks" shows of 2008 – his second-to-last song at the Shrine
Van sings "Into the Mystic" – from German TV – his last song at the Shrine
Van Morrison sings "Celtic New Year" on Jools Holland's BBC show – just lovely
AND FROM OUR SPECIAL GUEST ....
Tom Jones sings "It's Not Unusual" – from the Hammersmith Odeon, 1989
Tom Jones and Janis Joplin sing "Raise Your Hand"
"Without music, life would be an error." – Nietszche