If there was any sense that the Marin Alsop was at the end of a particularly harried week for her, she displayed no signs of it at her “Casual Friday” concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Friday 2 November. The Baltimore-based conductor found herself at the center of the headlines last week – albeit for reasons she probably would have preferred to have passed up on. Her home was caught in the sights of the fury of the devastating Hurricane Sandy that passed over the US East Coast that week, with the storm’s powerful winds knocking a large tree over her study. Numerous scores in her personal collection were damaged, though fortunately for Alsop, she had already left Baltimore. “It could have been much worse,” she said in an NPR interview. “I feel for people who had much worse happen to them.”

Marin Alsop © Kym Thomson
Marin Alsop
© Kym Thomson

That same indomitable attitude colored her approach to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 6, the last work on Friday night’s program. It had a certain granitic power; a blunt-edge force, though somewhat lacking in nuance.

Her conception of the first movement was massive; rough-hewn. It was an interpretation that was a touch unyielding. The first movement’s famous swooning melody had none of the usual Slavic passion, but was instead filtered through a cool American lens. The orchestra and Alsop tore into the violent development section with heavy-fisted power, though it didn’t make as devastating effect as it can in less sober hands. More contrast with the romantic music that preceded – and followed it – was sorely needed.

The middle movements were treated as more as balletic divertimento-like pieces. Tart and piquant in the second movement’s 5/4 waltz; bouncy and vigorous in the third-movement march. The sparkling color she lent the march was followed immediately by an eruption of applause – which was quickly cut through by the finale.

Alsop’s Adagio lamentoso was less a tearful farewell to life and more like a hard-fought resignation. A different point of view; a very modern one. The coda, so often a bleak vision of the void, of eternal nothingness, sounded in Alsop’s hands somehow more reassuring.

The Tchaikovsky was preceded by a piece by Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov. Azul, a work for amplified cello, percussion, and orchestra drew very favorable notice for the audience. No doubt it was an audience-friendly work, no more challenging than your average film score. But despite its use of an exotic array of percussion instruments, its over-reliance on clichéd “world music” ideas – it was a kind of somnambulistic string of riffs from a never-ending Putomayo album – wore out its welcome quickly.

Perhaps Alsop’s stony facade at the concert was apt. After the storms of life, music and art still remain. And so it is with Alsop herself. The hurricane passed, but Alsop – and her community – will continue to thrive.