Violinist Nicola Benedetti performs the West Coast premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ Concerto in D with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Cristian Macelaru
(Photo credit: Charlotte Lee)
Review: The short and the long of the American conversation in Wynton Marsalis’ Concerto in D at the Bowl
By Mark Swed
Los Angeles Times
July 29, 2016
Every election year is about competing visions of America and what it means to be an American. Political parties this summer are particularly divided between and among themselves. The Hollywood Bowl, however, has offered to help with the vision thing.
The sound track Thursday night at the Bowl was the latest merger of jazz and classical traditions with the West Coast premiere of Wynton Marsalis’ new Concerto in D, along with Aaron Copland’s all-American Symphony No. 3.
Marsalis is not only one of America’s finest jazz trumpeters but also, as an educator and the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, a classicist in his own right, a prime keeper of jazz tradition. His Concerto in D is a violin concerto, and a big one, that ranges through as many regions and aspects of American music as probably any concerto ever has.
Written for Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti, making her L.A. Phil debut, it was given its first performance with the London Symphony Orchestra in November. The L.A. Phil is one of a number of commissioners of the score. The conductor was Cristian Macelaru, who also led the U.S. premiere earlier this month with the Chicago Symphony.
A big concerto indeed. In London, it lasted 50 minutes, and Erica Jeal in the Guardian wrote that it felt like the longest concerto ever written. It has slimmed down since to a still significant 38 minutes…. Marsalis does like to go on as his big symphonic works given at the Bowl — the oratorio, “All Rise” and “Swing” Symphony — proved. But he also has a lot to say. The four-movement concerto begins in tribute to Gershwin, with a Rhapsody. The movement opens with a quiet solo violin lullaby and rises through everything from habanera and rustic dance (subtitled “Distant Ancestral Memories”) to spiritual and military march. The other movements are Rondo Burlesque, Blues and Hootenanny.
There is considerable changeable incident at all times. But there is also the consistency of Benedetti’s soulful, gorgeous classical sound. Her job is not to bring the character of a jazz violinist, which she never pretends to be. The orchestra gets all the jive.
Even in the Blues movement, the wonderfully long-lined spiritual heart of the concerto, the brass wails like banshees. In the Hootenanny, L.A. Phil players clap and stomp their feet. Nothing, however, takes away from Benedetti’s rambling but luxurious solos, which she plays with loving intensity.
Macelaru operated differently [in Copland’s Third Symphony], treating Copland more in the manner of Shostakovich…. In one of those rare, yet necessary, moments when nature steps in for the good at the Bowl, a chorus of coyotes in the hills joined the flutes in a considered, careful serious slow movement, and Copland’s symphony suddenly belonged.
A bold performance of Copland’s “An Outdoor Overture,” written for a school orchestra to play indoors, opened the program as professional big-boned outdoor music. Here, happily, hardy music could take it.