Review: Dalia Stasevska’s Bowl debut shows what fuss is about

The Hollywood Bowl has spent the first month of its 101st season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic to reinterpret and reinvent the orchestra’s long history at the famed amphitheater. It had the unparalleled support of Gustavo Dudamel, the Bowl’s happiest major conductor since the flamboyant Leopold Stokowski appeared in the 1930s. It’s been a great month with Bernstein, Beethoven and the movies, with reanimated Wagner, the Paris Opera Ballet and a revived Saint-Saëns thanks to Paolo Bortolameolli, the LA Phil-based conductor.

Now comes another Hollywood bowl tradition, an often more problematic one. For the remainder of August, the LA Phil will be primarily in the hands of conductors making their debuts with the orchestra.

Since the 1950s, management has used the summer concerts as a safe way to try out aspiring conductors. There is little economic risk as their fees are lower at this stage of their career. It’s just one day in the life of the orchestra – a morning rehearsal and the evening concert. The repertoire is usually so familiar that the orchestra can inspire it if necessary. Additionally, the crowds might not bother all that much, what to do with the joys of a picnic and a night under the stars and still some dollar seats in a popular venue (without the less-pleasant traffic and parking).

For the young conductor, however, the safety net has as many holes as a thinly sliced ​​Swiss cheese. Last season the Bowl became a place where former Dudamel Fellows gave their first Bowl date, so at least they knew the orchestra, the acoustics and the daunting scene. The guest conductors are not family this year, although all of the debutants are already on a good career path.

A late arrival on Tuesday night was Dalia Stasevska, who was scheduled to make her bowl debut in the pandemic-cancelled season two summers ago. Although born in Ukraine, she emigrated to Finland at the age of 5 and has now joined the ever-growing ranks of Finnish conductors of all generations. In Finland, Stasevska is music director of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, one of the best in the country, and she’s also royalty, having married the great-grandson of Sibelius, the eclectic electric bassist of Finnish power metal group Stratovarius and a fascinating composer in her own right .

As the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s first guest conductor, Stasevska has already passed an acid test, conducting the orchestra on the Last Night at the Proms in September 2020. A commission difficult enough at any time, this raw populist London tradition always ends with ‘rule , Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, sung by a large choir and an audience of 5,000.

This year required a reduced, distanced orchestra and choir, and the concert was broadcast without a live audience. The BBC Symphony ruled that COVID-19 restrictions made singing these numbers impractical, but there was also jitters about how the musical numbers represented colonial Britain, particularly in this summer of international racial reckoning. Stasevska, who is a vocal supporter of Black Lives Matter but was not involved in the decision, received blame and threats on social media. Boris Johnson was among those who insisted the lyrics be reinstated, and they did. Stasevska continued impressively, running unusually sane virtual proms.

A bowl debut might not seem intimidating after that. Stasevska confidently took the stage on Tuesday, kicking off with Anna Meredith’s exhilarating, colorful ‘Nautilus’, inspired by the composer who was stomping around on the beach in her native Scotland. Thomas Adès had used it to open the LA Phil’s Gen X Festival in April, and at the Bowl the five-minute score, which sounds like a stuck brilliant brass fanfare, became an irresistible wow moment, delivered by Stasevska’s dynamic energy.

The promising “Nautilus” broke the ice for Stasevska before continuing to Iceland. Five years ago, Dudamel premiered Icelandic composer Daníel Bjarnason’s violin concerto Scordatura, written for Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto. Well, it just so happens that three weeks ago Stasevska conducted a Proms concert mixing Icelandic and Russian composers.

A violinist plays in front of seated orchestra musicians.

Violinist Pekka Kuusisto was the soloist in Daníel Bjarnason’s “Scordatura” with the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

‘Scordatura’, which curiously begins with the violinist playing a duet with himself and whistling while plucking his violin’s strings, is an engaging vehicle for Kuusisto. The fiddler has an engaging aspect that’s tailor-made for the Bowl’s big video screens, being a nonchalant old-school virtuoso, able to throw off anything with ease while simultaneously demonstrating emotional rapture despite the lively expression on his face.

Likewise, Bjarnason’s concert is both cool and hot. Melodies float like slivers of ice on a frigid sea, but there is lightning and thunder in stormy orchestral attacks, leading to Kuusisto’s startled, breathtaking cadences. Stasevska boldly pushed the orchestra.

Then, after the interval, she boldly urged the orchestra on in Dvorák’s Eighth Symphony. However, the fact that she was able to create an effective interpretation with so little practice turned out to be more unusual than perhaps advisable. This is a symphony the orchestra knows well. It has recorded the work three times, exciting under Zubin Mehta, suave under André Previn and gripping in an extraordinary re-release under Dudamel.

Stasevska led like she was still pounding on the Scottish beach. Every big effect was just that, a big effect with sloppy rhythms. She regularly treated warm, expressive passages of text as theatrically sudden pauses to slowly enjoy a beautiful sight before briskly moving on again. The LA Phil did as Stasevska ordered, but you could feel a kind of gasp from the players, as if they weren’t invited into the picture. The ensemble playing was tense. The effects became predictable.

The slow movement turned out to be the most interesting. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a Finnish Dvorák, but Stasevska’s transitions between soft and loud passages began to sound intriguingly like a Sibelius soundscape. But even here, the Bowl nullified her, thanks to a helicopter circling overhead throughout the move.

Stasevska returns to the LA Phil in March, when she will have the opportunity to conduct Sibelius at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, in what are likely to be more welcoming conditions. Meanwhile, Lina González-Granados (August 11), Louis Langrée (August 16), Joseph Young (August 18) and another young Finn, Eva Ollikainen (August 18) will join the parade of conductors performing for the first time make the bowl spin. 30 and 1 Sept.). Meanwhile, a young conductor who made her Bowl debut last summer, Marta Gardolińska (August 25), has been invited back. Review: Dalia Stasevska’s Bowl debut shows what fuss is about

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