Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
UCLA Live at Royce Hall
The latest in this ongoing series of entertaining events at Royce Hall continued on March 10 with a night of Maurice Ravel, conducted by Myung-Whun Chung, and featuring amazing soprano Anne Sofie von Otter during the readings of Sheherazade. Presented by UCLA Live in the warm and inviting confines of the aforementioned Royce Hall, and sponsored by the E. Nakamichi Foundation, the night was a delectable and cultured night populated by the usual varied crowd and infused with dreams.
It began with the complete ballet of Ma mere l’oye, a suite of compositions dedicated to fairy tales, which hues to Ravel’s love of and dedication to the feelings of childhood wonder that are threaded through his works. A sense of excitement and joy wound its way through the orchestra and permeated the room and audience. The suite was lively, dreaming, and rife with a sense of adventure. It faded down slowly, and the conductor humbly left the stage to a burst of applause, only to come back out once, twice, and thrice.
The third time he reappeared, he was accompanied by Anne Sofie von Otter, statuesque and impressive as she lithely moved to the forefront of the orchestra while the musicians leaned into the beginning strains of Sheherazade. Otter’s lilting soprano led us on the journey as we sat raptly while the orchestra accompanied her incredible storytelling. It was truly an amazing spectacle of sound and sight.
Then, it was intermission. Everyone jumped up, grabbed their coats, and headed for the exits. We looked at each other: Was it over? No, we decided, it couldn’t be. But why the look of finality on everyone’s faces; look of need for a post-concert drink or dance or run through the bushes on the UCLA campus? Indeed. When we checked the pamphlet and realized we had two more sections to go, we laughed like silly fools and headed out with the crowd.
Next up was Daphnis et Chloe’, widely considered Ravel’s masterpiece. Ms. von Otter was gone, to be replaced by glorious flutes and huge drum crashes. It was obvious the entire percussion section was having an amazing time; their excitement was palpable and the joy on their faces obvious. Under the tutelage of Myung-Whun Chung, the entire orchestrated breathed and flowed, a large single minded organism rolling like the ocean across the stage.
Our night was capped with La Valse, Ravel’s great waltz. Starting mild and slow, the piece gradually builds to a great crescendo, at time atonal and difficult to enjoy, but at the same time incredibly deep, layer upon layer of melody threaded through and bobbing to the surface just enough for us to grab on to. As the orchestra wound down to the closing strains, applause built up amongst shouts of “Bravo!” as the conductor and his crew took several bows, and more bows, and more bows.
It was indeed a beautiful, emotional and at times harrowing tour through Ravel’s songbook, and we woke as from a dream to file out into the starry Los Angeles night, only to return when the next artist, orchestra, or spoken word event rolled in. Til then…