There's a magic time at the Hollywood Bowl when the sky turns from a pale blue to a glowing kaleidoscope of orange, pink and purple. Right before the downbeat, as the crowd hums and the orchestra tunes, the view is dazzling and the tranquility that the warm breeze ushers in is singular as only Hollywood can deliver. And on this Thursday evening, Gustavo Dudamel’s final summer appearance and ten year anniversary at the venue, the bright lights of Tinseltown and the glow of a full moon washed out any stars in the sky, but to say that there was plenty of star power on stage would be an understatement. All of the musicians eclipsed even Hollywood’s star power Thursday night.

Gustavo Dudamel © Nohely Oliveros
Gustavo Dudamel
© Nohely Oliveros

Maestro Dudamel still commands significant celebrity in Los Angeles and Thursday night was one of those performances when the vivacious Venezuelan wowed the audience with his musicality. Dudamel seems to have a particular ease in Mozart, perfectly judging tempi for maximum flow of phrase while highlighting not only the impeccable craftsmanship of the compositions but also the surprises along the way. Even in the ubiquitous Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Dudamel, served well by his fabulous players, easily managed to bring a freshness to the piece, contrasting movement to movement, but also exposition to recapitulation, dynamically. With a hands-off manner of control, often utilizing just an eyebrow or a glance, Dudamel makes his Mozart go somewhere, but never seems in a hurry. 

Dudamel’s mastery was even better illustrated when paired with stellar pianist Alice Sara Ott who delivered a captivating reading of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 in C major. The German-Japanese virtuoso was a commanding force on the stage. With her slight build and gracefully long fingers, Ott danced along the keyboard. When tearing through the melismas, Ott evoked a light color from her instrument. And while Ott’s virtuosity was compelling enough, taking into account her complete focus and mastery, not only of her own part, but of the orchestra’s, made for a wholly elevated musical experience. Her impassioned countenance, broadcast on the glorious HD screens to the sides of the stage, only added to one’s appreciation of Ott’s artistry. 

The Steinway Grand sounded particularly delicate, almost pianoforte like, making for an especially glorious effect in the famous Andante movement. When paired with the supple tones of the La Phil’s divided violins, played without vibrato, it was an ideal balance of HIP and “romantic” Mozart. To further magnify the level of music making, Ott opted for Ferruccio Busoni’s anachronistic cadenzas. Like some big musical puzzle, Ott unraveled every turn and chromatic change with an impossible excitement to the point that the piece seemed ready to burst at the seams by the time the orchestra returned. If that wasn’t enough, Ott ravished the crowd of 12,000 with a blistering reading of Listz’s La Campanella as an encore. Ott’s was the classical equivalent of a rock star performance.

Opera stars Gerald Finley and Miah Persson provided some exquisite contributions to the all-Mozart program. Finley sang highlights from both Don Giovanni baritone roles with a charming and clean baritone. While not completely at home in the comical “Catalogue Aria,” both it and the “Champagne Aria” were vocally appealing. Swedish soprano Miah Persson seemed more dramatically commanding, particularly in the glorious “Dove sono.” With a natural command of Italian, Persson imbued the recitative with vitality and the aria with rich colors. Despite missing some weight in her lower register for the more meaty declamations in the lyric arias, Persson was captivating throughout her performance. When both singers combined for two duets, the vocal and dramatic synergy boiled over in the endlessly delightful Magic Flute duet.

It was a generous evening of music, not only in quality but in length. To the audience’s delight, a taping for Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” was weaved into the performance of the overture to The Marriage of Figaro with actor Gael Garcia Bernal proving once and for all that an orchestra like the LA Phil doesn’t “need” a conductor after all! 

Yet despite all of the outstanding stars onstage, Mozart shone the brightest throughout the evening. In the hands of Dudamel and the LA Phil, the master’s music was lovingly imparted. In the atmosphere of the Bowl, it was one of those evenings when everything aligned exquisitely to create a celestial body of music.