Well if I’m not sticking to my car seat and finding creative ways to miss pool parties to avoid showing my body then it’s not summer in Los Angeles! But aside from the heat and the BBQs, something that screams summertime to me is an evening at every gay man/old person’s favorite outdoor amphitheater…the Hollywood bowl. I’ve had the pleasure of attending five different shows at the Bowl so far this season, most recently to see the fabulous and caustically witty Bramwell Tovey conduct Phillip Glass.
Now, everyone who has ears and and a central nervous-system knows that Phillip Glass is just amazing and badass. There’s something in it for everyone. His music is simple yet rich, pretty yet cerebral, and just downright wonderful. Someone could be trepanning my scull right now and I’d enjoy it as long as Songs From Liquid Days was playing in the background. So, needless to say you wouldn’t have to work very hard to make my enjoy “Music by Glass”, but Bramwell and the always astounding LA Philharmonic really knocked this one out of the park. For the most part.
The show started out with a piece called “The Chairman Dances” by John Adams, which I’d never heard (of). If you’re thinking to yourself “I never even knew the second president of the United States was a composer”, then you’re where I was last night. This piece was nothing short of MESMERIZING. I enjoyed it so much I pulled a Millennial and added it to a Spotify playlist this morning for handy access. The orchestra really killed it. Even though the sound and acoustics in an outdoor theater aren’t going to be spectacular, the performance just felt rich and LOUD in all the best possible ways. The ensemble had such a great sense of movement. The brass section really popped while the music of the piece oscillated back and forth like the most glorious tug-of-war match. All in all it was a relatively short piece but it was such a dynamite opener to this show.
The middle piece was a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. The best part about it was that Bramwell comes out, sits at his cute little piano with his cute little English accent and takes you through the whole story of Romeo and Juliet (which I’m sure everyone knew but it’s LA so you can’t be too careful), highlighting all the different moments of the suite and all their musical signals. He has this really charming albeit at times biting wit when about the way he talks about music. He often peppers his speeches with phrases like “remember this for the next time you go to one of your Beverly Hills dinner parties” and “Alright you guys are cute, now shut up I’m talking”. Someone like him could very easily make you think “Ugh, I feel like I’m at a music lesson” but instead makes you say “Yay! I feel like I’m at a music lesson!”. The piece itself was of course lovely and beautiful but ultimately I’m thinking “alright when’s Phillip Glass happening?”
So he breaks for intermission and immediately after the lights go up, the crew (in their uber modern black shirt/slacks combo) wheels out this GIGANTIC statue sculpture into the middle of the stage. They then cover that thing with a giant screen so you can’t see all the tinkering I’m assuming was happening. The structure looked like a giant silver half-dome made out of Swiss cheese. About 25 minutes later they start the piece, Bramwell and his podium dwarfed by this monstrosity of a sculpture. The lights were turned low (frankly I’m not sure how the musicians actually read their music) and this giant upright plastic tube is revealed behind one of the screens (huh??). The performance starts, sans music I might add, with a handful of people clawing and climbing their way out of the tube and onto the stage. Once they’re all out of there, the music starts and the group all gravitates towards the Swiss cheese dome, and the dancing starts. The woman and gay men (I’m assuming) of the dance company all hover around it until slowly getting sucked in to its holes (hehe). The dome itself I didn’t realize was on some mechanism that let is rotate and and change angle. While the dancing wasn’t exactly Cirque Du Soleil (which apparently in this post is the gold standard of dance companies), they were a compelling addition to the piece of music. Oh, right the music. So the music was happening concurrently and was certainly a very nice rendition, but was a) a bit eclipsed by the dancing and b) not the absolute most gripping performance I’d ever been witness to. They were performing from Glass’ Symphony Number 3 which I’ve only heard segments of but remember thinking “Yep, this sounds like Phillip Glass” about it most of the time. I have to say the most compelling part of the whole shebang was this highly elaborate set with the mechanical moving dome and the really spectacular lighting design. And because we were right in the middle this strange optical illusion happened where the dome appeared to be concave when it was ACTUALLY convex (my mind is blowing all over again talking about it). The performance ended with one of the dancers crawling back into the tube, the other dancers lifting that tube and sliding it out of one of the holes of the dome as if to shoot her out like some drive-through ATM deposit chute (remember those?). HOW that tube was heavy enough to stay steady while people climbed through it but light enough to be lifted by three people is beyond me but there you go. The dancers lingered in the spotlight a beat too long of course during the curtain call but it was really a fascinating spectacle.
If you (the person reading this who’s NOT my mom) haven’t been to the Hollywood Bowl this summer then you should go STAT before they switch back to performing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall on the 30th and you have to sit indoors to listen to music without deli sandwiches and way too much smuggled wine like a wild animal.