A full house greeted Gustavo Dudamel back on the podium, making his first appearance since the weekend of Friday the 13th in October. Gustavo treated his adoring public to a dazzling new percussion concerto by Joseph Pereira and, after intermission, Brahms' First Symphony. In turn, his fans presented him with not one but two impromptu birthday serenades before and after the Brahms, and were joined by the orchestra the second time. "I'm getting old," Gustavo admitted ruefully to his public. He's only 36.

The centerpiece was the world première of Thresholds by Joseph Pereira, who has been LA Phil's Principal Timpanist since 2007. The stage was filled to the brim with the three soloists – Pereira where the inner strings usually sit, surrounded by seven timpani, and the Maraca2 Percussion Duo, their battery of instruments spread symmetrically across the front of the stage with ceramic tiles – "literal thresholds made musical" as John Henken's liner notes described it – placed in the center. The orchestra had three of its own percussionists in their accustomed positions across the back. And even the non-percussion orchestra got into the act, such as when the double basses alternatively stroked and thumped their strings. 

The piece was written for Maraca2 – aka Tim Palmer and Jason Huxtable – who started out playing at the ends of the stage, moved progressively inwards until they reached the center of the stage, then returned to their original positions. 

The composer identifies "the barest elements of the pitch material attempting to create a vast open space" as one of Thresholds' basic elements; it's a compelling construct, especially when you realize that most of the percussion instruments are either unpitched or pitched only in a black and white sense – like scrub brush, thunder sheets, octobons, roto-toms, spring coils, spiral cymbals and rocks. This meant that the orchestra, despite its huge size, had to be similarly black and white in pitch and inflection so that, regardless of its might, it would never overshadow the soloists. 

It was an interesting sonic conceit and worked surprisingly well. After a quiet, mysterious opening, Pereira entered for his first big timpani solo about five minutes in, things started to get serious as Palmer and Huxtable moved inexorably towards the center where tables of at least a dozen ceramic tiles – musical versions of fingers scratching on blackboards – and the xylophones lay. 

While Pereira avoided the idea of dueling percussionists, the piece's visual highlight was the sight of LA Phil's two harpists frantically flailing their instruments while the xylophones and lots of tweeting woodwinds filled the Hall with sound. Just when it seemed like we'd get more of Palmer and Huxtable than of Pereira, a gong introduced a tour de force timpani cadenza, an exercise in velvet power which was enveloped in organ-like swells from the full orchestra. 

After intermission Dudamel and LA Phil returned with Brahms' First Symphony, which flowed almost seamlessly - but distant as if the orchestra was waiting for Gustavo to snap them into focus – or vice versa. The result was pleasantly more than merely Brahms-lite; it was Brahms young and svelte, with no real purpose except to make beautiful sounds. 

The concert opened with Stravinsky's Fireworks, which is in LA Phil's DNA, and was alertly played; although, as would be true throughout the program there were very few real pianos let alone pianissimos.