Viva Vivaldi!

vivaldi and trombone

Mashing up has become a great pastime for many a musician. Whether it’s sticking  (update) Linkin Park with Jay-Z or The Beatles with….Jay-Z, it’s all about picking an unusual combination and making it work wonders and cross boundaries.

 Well, the Hollywood Bowl took that as its modus operandi with the Four Seasons “con salsa” last night. The two unlikely bedfellows were Vivaldi in the guise of a miniaturized LA Phil and Salsa Dura, a salsa band with an even smaller orchestra. And over the course of the evening, they mated, took lessons from each other, and seemed to emerge more potent as the result.

 It wasn’t without its flaws. For one thing, the first half of the concert was Handel, which played almost like an opening act at a rock concert. During intermission the question was…hey, where is the salsa!

They came on after the intermission and proceeded to throwback expectations. We’d get Vivaldi’s Spring and then Salsa’s Spring. It reminded me of an educational video I once saw that pitted Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker (led by Seiji Ozawa) versus Duke Ellington’s version of the same music (led by Wynton Marsalis). You could almost not tell any of the similarities even though the music was the same. Style seemed to trump substance.

 And that was certainly true last night. Our violin soloist, Pekka Kuusisto, played the Vivaldi with the flair of a fiddle player. He came out in black shirt and oozed a kind of Nigel Kennedy-esque irreverence. At times his playing was a little too loose (i.e. sloppy), but overall he was dazzling as a pure entertainer…a Lang Lang of the violin.

Pekka slowly weaves his way into the salsa band and eventually has musical conversations with the trombonist. With almost the energy of a mismatched rap battle, it was added value for all concerned. The crowd was pretty happy with what was going on. When the fast section of Summer appeared, the crowd welcomed it as the badass piece that it is, not just a nice classical ditty.

Mark Swed writes a pretty good review of the concert. I would have to disagree that the ingredients didn’t feel mixed enough. I think that making things feel more raw and less polished gave the event a kind of charm. For example, combining salsa and baroque music is such a great concept, but to have it work you really need everyone on the same page. The people who came for salsa needed to know what Vivaldi was like (as if they needed help…but sometimes they do). The people who came for Vivaldi needed a little lesson in what salsa does….in fact, there were salsa dancing lessons earlier on in the evening. A mash-up only works with things that are popular and known otherwise the joke, the joy of creating a musical Frankenstein, is lost.

Being a little more casual than the typical Thursday night concert, it really made it worth parking at Hollywood and Highland and walking all the way up. Now I want to do a mash up of my own…off the top of my head I would combine Steve Reich with Frank Sinatra….um…..um…..drumming with My Way. Yeah!

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