The Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Kansas City concert was vivid and invigorating, the only Midwest stop on its North American tour. Led by music director Gustavo Dudamel and featuring pianist Yuja Wang, the orchestra performed in Helzberg Hall on Friday night, presented by the Kansas City Symphony.
The organization is a testament to classical music as an integrated, not insulated, component of contemporary culture. The the performers have forged connections in education and challenge perceptions with a commitment to performing modern works, while at the same time vitalizing the repertoire.
Dudamel’s conducting was mostly understated, rarely drawing attention away from the musicians by saving expansive gestures for necessary oomph.
The concert opened with Daníel Bjarnason’s “Blow Bright,” commissioned by the Philharmonic and premiered in December. The work was inspired by the Icelandic composer’s reaction to the Pacific Ocean and his experience working with electronic effects. The piece included acoustic manifestations of those effects, creating a soundscape of rush and ebb that was reminiscent without being literal.
The strings shimmered on harmonics sparked by percussive hits, piccolo and abrupt bass slaps. Bowed percussion set up concertmaster Martin Chalifour’s taut, then tender, solo, the grace notes glinting.
Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, known for its blistering technical requirements, was demandingly grandiose. The initial unhindered approach to melody soon gave way to weighty, extravagantly emotive lines, with both the orchestra and soloist digging into the work with propulsive ferocity.
Wang’s detailed rendering was itself symphonic. The performance seemed organic, with fluent transitions that turned from delicate to brawny to searing. Her fluidity in the runs allowed distinctive themes to emerge, while the lightly annunciated trills twinkled playfully before erupting into rumbling crescendos.
Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2, with its endlessly hummable melodies and classical structure, seemed a safe, unassuming programming choice, but the performance was rousing, with vast emotional wealth.
Again, an unhurried ease permeated the introductory exchanges, belying the saturating passion to come. Dudamel shaped the ends of phrases with poignant energy, making beautifully spaced releases. A luxurious cello soli, impeccable winds and triumphant brass created a sophisticated, rejuvenating performance, the impact creating a spontaneous ovation.
After multiple curtain calls, Dudamel jumped back on the podium for an encore, the Polonaise from Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” The crisp brass fanfare and playful dance rhythms, though succinct and joyous, diluted a bit of the heft and power of the preceding works.