Like many good little Korean girls, I had a Korean dad who was really, really, really, ridiculously into classical music and who plopped five-year-old me in front of the piano in what I can only assume was a faint hope that doing so would somehow activate my latent piano prodigy powers. To his chagrin, it didn’t, but for almost a decade of my young life, I spent an hour each day disdainfully perched in front of a shiny, black piano.
Some time after I stopped playing piano, I dove deep into the rebellious worlds of trance and alternative rock, which led me further down the rabbit holes of electronic and rock music, respectively. The more involved my explorations got, the more I realized that all music truly was in many respects interconnected and that my dad had been right about one thing: classical music is the foundation for many modern genres of music.
Following this revelation, I developed a begrudging respect for classical music that grew into an appreciation in the most Austenian of fashions before settling on the outright fondness I now feel for it. Chopin may have been the gateway drug, but it wasn’t long before I found myself at the Walt Disney Concert Hall listening to Sarah Chang playing Brahms.
Tchaikovsky is perhaps one of the most illustrious composers to come out of the 19th century. While the scores he composed for Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker are arguably the most iconic ballet scores of all time, his 1812 Overture is instantly recognizable even to those who know next to nothing about classical music. Combine that with The Spirit of Troy (AKA the best marching band in the world) and fireworks, and you have all the makings of a memorable night.
Despite the fact that the Tchaikovsky Spectacular with Fireworks has been an LA tradition for years now, this year’s rendition was my first time at the rodeo. Appropriately, I brought along my very own high expectations Asian father to the show because nothing says, “Sorry for being a failed classical musician” quite like watching people who are actually good at playing their instruments.
The evening kicked off with famed conductor Leonard Slatkin leading the LA Philharmonic through Marche Slave, which features faint callbacks to 1812 Overture. French violinist Alexandra Soumm took the stage alongside the orchestral ensemble to play all three dizzying movements of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. I’m not by any means up to speed on all the up-and-comers in the world of classical music, so Soumm’s name didn’t immediately jump out at me in the program, but in my my non-expert opinion, she delivered an electrifying performance from start to finish. The first movement in particular deserves special recognition for being beautifully paced.
With Soumm off stage, the rather somber suite from Swan Lake, though beautiful, sounded just a pinch duller than it normally would have. Not to say that the requisite hauntingly elegant elements weren’t there because they were. It’s just understandably difficult to recapture that same spark when you’re playing music that is more subdued and nuanced. I enjoyed the suite, but I’d have admittedly preferred hearing selections from Sleeping Beauty instead.
The explosive (literally) finale, 1812 Overture, featured the signature long, drawn-out build-up that was just as lovely as my memory had recalled, but let’s be honest here. The part I (and from the sounds of it, most everyone else) was eagerly awaiting was the bombastic second half of this iconic piece.
The LA Phil along with a sizeable chunk of the USC Marching Band’s (fight on!) brass section fought desperately to play over the raucous sound of fireworks popping in the sky and, from where I was seated, were mostly successful, though they did get drowned out a handful of times. But really, that’s just me splitting hairs for the sake of journalistic objectivity. If I wanted to listen to 1812 Overture in its unbroken entirety, I would have been at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Instead I was at the Tchaikovsky Spectacular with Fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl, and as far as delivering on all fronts, the LA Philharmonic Orchestra managed to do so with ease.
I can always tell when my dad has enjoyed live music he’s just heard. Much like how he kept singing the first line of the chorus of ABBA’s “Voulez-Vouz” after watching the musical Mamma Mia (much to the chagrin of my mom and and I), following the Tchaikovsky Spectacular with Fireworks my dad was beaming and creating his own vocal rendition of 1812 Overture’s most prominent bars. Thank you, LA Phil, for creating this evening of father-daughter bonding and for reminding me that music is truly capable of transcending time.
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