People associate magic and dreaming with Tinseltown for obvious reasons, but last night’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl reminded attendees of just how enchanting the city is. Led by internationally renowned conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, the Los Angeles Philharmonic filled the evening with music by Hector Berlioz and Manuel de Falla. The program consisted of Falla’s El Amor Brujo and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, two pieces with central themes that revolve around love, magic, and the supernatural.
For those who aren’t familiar with classical music, experiencing Falla’s ballet and Berlioz’s symphony is best compared to Disney’s Fantasia. Both works progress in such a way as to tell a story, using musical elements and a program to communicate the narrative. Once the first measure of Falla’s ballet set the scene for the captivating story, the orchestra’s performance would command their listeners to ignore their wine and cheese picnics in favor of an exquisite, aural feast.
El Amor Brujo tells the story of an Andalusian gypsy named Candela who is haunted by the spirit of her unfaithful, deceased husband. When she finds love again, the apparition tries to use fear to separate the two. Candela attempts to exorcise the ghost—an act that is conveyed in the popular “Ritual Fire Dance.” Frühbeck (widely known for his studio recordings of Falla’s complete works) conducted the piece with an air of familiarity that resulted in a unique, body language of his own. Aside from a handful of imprecise attacks in scattered syncopated sections, the orchestra moved through the ballet as fluidly as Frühbeck led them. The fury of the “Ritual fire dance” effectively dissipated into the “Song of the Will-o’-the-Wisp,” suspending the audience in a somber ambiance. Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford sang the widowed gypsy’s woes, and her voice’s rich timbre evoked the passion of Candela’s spirit from the depths of her chest.
From the exotic Iberian Peninsula, the Philharmonic took the audience to Berlioz’s France to tell the story of a young artist’s unrequited love. Symphonie Fantastique begins as a dreamlike representation of an artist’s obsession with a woman but takes a hellish turn when he doses himself with opium to numb the pain of his rejection.
The performance captured the essence of the lover’s torment, executing both the sorrow and exhilaration of young love in “Daydreams – Passions” and the terror of love’s pitfalls in “March to the Scaffold.” Frühbeck’s command of Symphonie Fantastique was doubly impressive as he conducted all five movements (nearly an hour of nonstop music) completely from memory. The synergy among Frühbeck and the musicians was palpable throughout the program symphony, especially when his conducting resembled a waltz-like dance during the whimsical movement “Un bal.” “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath” ended the concert with its powerful variations on “Dies Irae,” ultimately equating misdirected love to death.
At the end of a Hollywood Bowl concert, it’s hard to tell whether people are standing to applaud or to beat the madhouse of traffic from stacked parking. After this particular concert, it was easy to see that the audience would have forgone an easy ride home for a much desired encore.