An Evening with Shaham, Bringuier, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Stravinsky (and Trump, too!)

Lionel Bringuier and Gil Shaham with the LA Philharmonic
Walt Disney Concert Hall

No, Trump wasn’t there, but by the time you read this he will be our 45th president. My dad and I were on our way to see the glorious LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday night and somehow everything seemed to be appropriately Trump-esque – dark, looming clouds, a heaviness of heart, and an all Russian line up of composers (I know, right?) In some ways it was the perfect prologue for the bad guy and his impending takeover the following day.

For starters, Night On Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky – a tune that most of us would immediately associate with Fantasia, 1941. I loved French conductor Lionel Bringuier—so entertaining, arms waving and shoulders hopping in perfect time. According to the program, and Mussorgsky’s own words, this piece was about witches who gathered on a certain mountain to, “Talk scandal, and wait for their chief Satan” and before long Satan gave, “The sign for the Sabbath to begin and then picks himself out the witches who have taken his fancy”- or, in other words, what should’ve been the opening score for Trump’s inauguration.

Afterward, Bringuier sprung from the podium to escort genius violinist Gil Shaham out onto the stage to immense applause. The cheering continued as Gil made the rounds with orchestra members, his animated smile and ecstatic waving spreading joy like a wildfire. Almost immediately and with utmost perfection, he brought bow to strings and Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor began with solemnity. In 1935 Sergei Prokofiev was really starting to miss his homeland and it’s pretty clear from this piece. Definitely no coincidence that the Allegro moderato has hints of traditional Russian folk music and a sense of longing. The very demanding, very frantic pace seemed to be asking, “Should I stay, or should I go?” The Andante assai had all violinists methodically plucking strings while Shaham’s violin wept. A clarinet wandered in and joined the musical vagabond. The Allegro, ben marcato was fidgety and restless, with a crackling of castanets.

I looked down at the front row section and noticed an elderly woman and her husband fast asleep. A man with a long red tie in the second row was nodding off as his wife tried unsuccessfully to keep him awake.

After intermission (and thankfully some people were able to get coffee) it was Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky – the story of a love triangle between three puppets, brought to life during the Carnival of 1830 in St. Petersburg. Petrushka is in love with the Ballerina but she goes for the bad boy Moor. Petrushka confronts the Moor and is killed by him.

In the end Petrushka gets the last laugh as his ghost haunts the scene. You could really imagine all the colors and energy of a carnival from The Shrovetide Fair tableau. The story continues, at times sounding like a delicate music box. There is a portion about 25 minutes in that blew me away; the heavy steps of horns and violins slowly fade away, while a sea of clarinets began to murmur softly, gradually increasing to a sort of buzzing. If you closed your eyes you could feel yourself flying over large, puffy clouds at incredible speeds, on the wings of a million violins. When contemplating the direction our country is taking, that’s just what I’d love to do right about now. Thank you LA Phil for another glorious musical escape.

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