For the Los Angeles Philharmonic's first concert in its Mozart-Pärt cycle on 19 May in Walt Disney Concert Hall, I was seated in the high reaches of the "orchestra view", behind the orchestra and facing the conductor. This gave me a bird's-eye view, mano a mano as it were, from which to closely observe Gustavo Dudamel conducting two emotionally exhausting, very large and different choral statements about mortality, linked by the apocalypse of Dies irae.

Gustavo Dudamel © Mark Hanauer
Gustavo Dudamel
© Mark Hanauer
I had the feeling that many of the participants, whose wide international background bring them inescapably into contact with the cruelty of today’s world-changing political events, and none more painfully so than Dudamel himself, were using the seriously dour coupling of Arvo Pärt's Miserere and Mozart's Requiem to generate their own intense waves of spiritual energy.

Pärt’s half-hour long Miserere, commissioned by the Summer Festival in Rouen in 1989, dedicated to Paul Hillier and the Hilliard Ensemble, definitely means to be prepared to face moments of wrath introduced by thunderous drum-rolls and as much noise as the curiously small ensemble – oboe, clarinets, bassoon, trumpet, percussion, organ, electric guitar and electric bass – could make. Which was a lot when the Philharmonic’s versatile keyboardist Joanne Pearce Martin, stationed at a lonely organ console stage left, played very loud in the interstices between the minimalist bits. It all works out in a radiant end, King David’s guilt is assuaged, and the 24-member Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, singing like grand musical saints and warriors, acknowledges its sins and finds consolation.

The Mozart was similarly large and overwhelming, except without the instrumental interludes, but with another 24 singers, the Latvian Radio Choir, the entire Philharmonic including a very healthy contingent of strings, and Martin seated, this time stage right, at a small, completely inaudible portativ organ. After it was over, as they had after the Pärt, the audience cheered and whistled and hurled catcalls for five minutes, aided and abetted by Dudamel himself who after each piece, let his arms descend in a graceful arc of silence for 30 seconds, after which he let the rafters ring with applause.

Dudamel was somber throughout the evening to the extent that he may well have been taking those extra 30 seconds so that he could return to real life along with his celebrants. I had my eyes on him for the entire time, during which the musical events seemed to flit across his face like clouds across an eternal landscape, finding their physical expression in his baton and the instantaneous response of his musical forces.

Seated so high up, I also came to know intimately the largest and loudest of the Walt Disney Concert Hall's 6,134 organ pipes. By exaggerating the essence of the piece, the contrast between the sin and guilt and thunderbolts and drums was made almost physically real.