Courtesy of a German conductor.
This weekend has been Tchaikovsky-tastic at the Hollywood Bowl: two nights of the Russe with fireworks. The evening started rousingly with T’s Cossack dance: your steroetypical populist folksy tune made classical. It set the scene for a evening of entertaining cheesiness. Now, don’t get me wrong. I lurve Tchaikovsky, and for all the same reasons that most people do: his music is very emotional and involving. But because of that, his music has been used in all too many soppy, tear-jerking, sentimental (you get the picture) movies and soap operas. The second piece of the night was his Piano Concerto No.1, which is beautiful. No doubt everyone knows the opening bars (or if you didn’t know it was Tchaikovsky, you’d still recognise the melody). And I will forever more associate with a Japanese tear-fest of a drama about a talented young woman and her struggle to become a concert pianist.
The interval was a necessary break from the emotion welling within. OK, I just needed more alcohol*.
Which brings us to the even more spectacular second half, with T’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overemotion. Yes, one can have a little bit too much Tchaikovsky. Again, nothing wrong with the composition nor the orchestra. In fact, the Bowl’s changing lighting scheme came into its own with this piece, turning a dangerous red for the fight, pink for their love, and blue in tragedy. Maybe I just wasn’t in the appropriate romantic mood to truly appreciate the Fantasy overture. I was somewhat more concerned about P’s chilly hands (poor circulation, poor dear) than in just holding them. And I have to confess to having favourites when it comes to Russian composers of a certain period. Prokofiev, too, scored the Romeo and Juliet tragedy. And that has been my favourite since my cranky adolescent years, being just a little less sentimental. (Oh, who am I kidding. I love Tchaikovsky’s too. I think I was just tired.)
The 1812 overture, like the R+J F.O., is overemotional and overly testosterone-inducing. But what a crowd-pleaser it is! All the more when fireworks are timed perfectly to replace the cannons. Bringing on the red and gold-clad USC Trojan marching band was another perfectly cheesy, over-production, populist move that just fit the evening perfectly. I was thoroughly entertained despite my jaded-ness. After all the years of staid concert-going, being quiet and appreciative, trying not to fidget too much lest the neighbours shush me, last night’s concert was quite liberating. I felt able to throw off the cynical overcoat and wow at the Russian rooftop that appeared over the roof of the Bowl, and clap and cheer for every firework.
While this can never replace the true satisfaction of watching the final fireworks of the Edinburgh festival, the Hollywood Bowl certainly puts on a damn good show in spectacular surroundings. Even the moon obliged and loomed large and low for the R+J F.O. It’s not the best venue for delicate chamber music. It’s not the best acoustically for rock/pop concerts. But it’s perfect for Hollywood style grandness.
*For drinkipoos that night: a Merlot and some Polygamy Porter** from the Wasatch Brewery, both 100% from Utah. Of the two alkys, the porter was far superior (the less said about the wine the better). After initial laughs and nudges from my fellow Tchaikovskites, it was generally agreed that Wasatch produces a fine porter indeed. Unfortunately, one can’t get beer shipped just now. Which is why I’m going to Utah again in a few weeks.
**Why have just one! is their slogan.