Somewhere in the vastness of the universe Sibelius is crying. Tears of joy, that is – and it’s all because of violin virtuoso Ray Chen who graced the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage to perform (nay, own) his Violin Concerto in D Minor. Sibelius must’ve been going through it. The very beginning is like peering into the vastness of the ocean and remembering better days, a former sense of anticipation, then suddenly being shaken senseless to how things have become uncertain, frantic, and full of dread – I know what you’re thinking: it’s like Sibelius foretold the 2016 election or something! Or not, but it’s a tumultuous musical rapture, a little over a half hour, swelling with highs and lows, a playful dance of the stringed instrument section in between, resolve, and finally – a vow of steadfastness.
Chen took perfect command of translating the depths of this musical ocean. An abled sailor commanding a bow in place of an oar at the at the young age of 27. Isn’t it fun to watch a performer’s facial expressions? It also helps that he’s a handsome chap, easy on the eyes and an Instagram charmer (@raychenviolin). You won’t find any shortage of toned abs, love of desserts and sportin’ of his own personal line of Armani clothing. But seriously, this man is nothing short of amazing and it was hard to see him exit the stage during an ecstatic standing ovation.
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Although Chen’s performance was the highlight of the evening, the night’s concert began on a light hearted jazzy note with the Façade Suite No. 2 by William Walton. The heavily perfumed influence of Gershwin was undeniable and filled the hall. The orchestra pranced along through Fanfare, Scotch Rhapsody, Country Dance, Noche Española, Popular Song (a cheeky little thing!) and Old Sir Faulk under the guidance of the oh-so-entertaining conductor/composer Bramwell Tovey. The arrangements that usually called for Edith Sitwell lyrics to be shouted out during the performance were omitted. This actually allowed the music to stand alone nicely. Everything was very upbeat, flirty and fun. The audience even giggled at certain moments. I think Popular Song was my favorite of the bunch and was clearly inspired by cats! It reminded me of how my own cat Gwenzy (rest in peace) would sneak around the yard, flicking her tail, eyes transfixed on the plump pigeon balancing along the brick wall.
All good things must come to an end and they did: The Sleeping Beauty, Act II by just about everyone’s bae, Tchaikovsky. Captions would be provided above the orchestra and would help to aide the audience in following along with the musical story when they “grow tired of watching me”, Tovey smiled sheepishly. No way, Tovey – we love you! Everyone knows what’s up with this one - a spell is cast, a princess is in a deep sleep, a prince’s kiss is needed to wake her up. I slowing glanced around me. Nobody seemed to be offended by this. Everything about this orchestral performance (sans ballet dancers) was impressive. Thirty minutes or so later the audience began to stir. Percussionist Matthew Howard (who sat idly by in the back the entire time waiting for his cue) finally floated from his chair, walked over and delivered the perfectly timed “gong!” - Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece rumbled into completion.
The audience erupted.
Somewhere out there Sibelius and Tchaikovsky (and Walton too) are tapping their beer mugs in a salute – cheers to Bramwell Tovey, Ray Chen and the LA Phil.