A Summer of Music by Curtis Rittenhouse

By on August 29, 2012

We recently wrote of the pleasures of summering with Tchaikovsky in New York. Now let us praise summering in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl where the season is long and varied, and the artists first flight. Wednesday nights you may sample jazz, Tuesday and Thursday Beethoven, Friday or Saturday Les Miz or film music with fireworks.

Over the years the Los Angeles Philharmonic, whose summer home is the Bowl, has perfected the task of getting thousands of people in and out of the amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills off the Cahuenga Pass in a fashion any large football field would envy. Most importantly they have made the time spent there as enjoyable as possible. The mastermind of all this, the late executive director Ernest Fleischmann used to sit behind the boxes and get on the phone to LAX or the LAPD if any of their  aircraft strayed over the space during a performance.

You can bring your own dining, or have fine food and wine catered to your table in one of a number of boxes. If you don’t mind hearing amplified music from a semi-circle in the distance seemingly populated by ants, you can sit way up in the back near the hills and enjoy the cool breezes and delightful sounds of a summer concert. Don’t be surprised if a squirrel hops by. I recall a visit summers ago from a skunk strolling through  the expensive seats, something I doubt Gershwin or Fleischmann anticipated.

This year I was there again for a Franco-American program conducted by Stephane Deneve, the retiring director of the Scottish National Orchestra. With soloist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, he performed the Ravel Concerto in G about as well as you will ever hear it played. A signature piece of Thibaudet’s, it rolled off his fingers as naturally as water. Deneve was an attentive and effective accompanist.

Then the French conductor gave us Bernstein’s Overture to Candide and Fancy Free, concluding with a wonderful version of Gershwin’s American in Paris that reminded me anew what an effective little tone picture it is. Deneve introduced the program with Gallic wit, and the proceeded to end with an encore of Candide, this time punctuated by fireworks overhead.

Adventures like this one are experienced every summer in New York City parks, at the Bowl and places like the Blossom Festival, Ravinia, Tanglewood, Saratoga Springs and Woodtrap, just to name the most famous. Summer nights were made for this. If you have not treated yourself to a summer night under the stars with Tchaikovsky or Gershwin, Deneve or Tovey, minus the skunk, you owe yourself this wonderful experience.


Curtis Rittenhouse

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