August 14, 2009: Tchaikovsky Spectacular with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, plus Fireworks.
I’ve lived in LA since ’91 and I’ve seen a lot of shows at the Bowl. Radiohead (a few times), Ben Harper, REM, DMB, Santigold, Femi Kuti, that kid-a-palooza thing, etc etc etc. But in all these years I have never been to one of the Philharmonic shows at The Hollywood Bowl, nor have I ever seen their fireworks show.
My friends Niki, Jeff, and I headed up to the Bowl after dinner and some wine. First of all, what I expected was to be overtaken and surrounded by sound. The Bowl is one of the best sounding venues I’ve been to – it’s almost fun to see any show there just to experience great sound outdoors – and I expected that a classical performance would be a surround-sound event. Much to our surprise – not the case. The sound wasn’t loud at all. Everything still sounded great, but it wasn’t the full sound experience I’ve come to equate with the Bowl. Even the crickets were louder than the performance. Perhaps that’s the thing about classical shows and the reason people are so quiet and focused. Whenever somebody nearby poured wine (and it wasn’t us. . .) you missed 15 seconds of the show.
Anyway, sound notwithstanding, it was still a phenomenal experience and one I’d like to repeat again soon. The level of musicianship is mind-blowing. These are the prodigies. I was thinking about the typical tour and musicians being on the road for months (sometimes years) at a time, playing in front of live audiences every night. And some of these touring musicians haven’t actually been playing music all that long. Then, I look at these undeniably gifted players, who have probably been training for this moment since they were 4 years old, and wonder, “what do they do the rest of the year? Do they have day jobs? Do I run into them at Coffee Bean?” I obviously know nothing about this realm of performance, but I have great respect and appreciation of it.
In addition to the low decible sound, the other major difference between this and a typical “rock” show is how serious these musicians are. Not that all musicians aren’t serious, but these musicians don’t even look like they’re having fun or enjoying it all. But I ‘spose if I were playing one of the most challenging pieces of music written, I’d be pretty serious too. . . Which is probably why I’m not a classical musician.
During intermission I got up to get a bottle of wine so that we too could participate in the wine-pouring sound experience that had become part of the evening’s soundtrack. When I returned to our seats Niki looked at me and said, “Look at everybody. They’re drinking and chowing down at 10 at night. This whole thing is just an excuse to eat and drink!” She was kidding of course, but that is part of the whole Bowl “experience” – picnic basket and wine.
After intermission and the wine, the conductor told a story about Tchaikovsky’s piece “Romeo and Juliette”. The piece was written about the morning-after their last night together. Now we really needed to pay attention because opera singers came on to play the parts of Romeo and Juliette and the translation was projected on the screen. So now I have to listen and read and focus – perhaps we should be prescribing classical music instead of Ritalin. That performance, as was the case with the rest of the show, was exceptional.
Then, the fireworks kicked in, perfectly synched to the music. And not just fireworks, but streams of fire shooting into the sky. No breaks between the bursts of light, just a steady stream of explosions – the entire fireworks show was the finale. It didn’t build up to a climactic point, it just happened, full-on, start to finish.
Here’s the thing about the Bowl – any one of the elements that makes up the experience (great music, picnics and wine, fireworks, being out under the stars, exceptional sound quality) is enough to make it “worth it”. But at the Bowl, you don’t need to compromise and have only one great experience – you can have it all.
Undoubtedly somebody reading this is thinking (or will post a comment), “Yeah, you idiot – this is what happens at The Bowl most of the time!” I know. And while I may be a decade late in discovering it, I’m happy to know there’s another great “excuse to eat and drink” in LA.