It seemed less a festivity than an overlong night of business-as-usual, but at least the new Hollywood Bowl season had its official opening on Tuesday (after a shakedown week of “preview” events). As before, there was the customary air armada to intrude on the quietest music — does the Federal Aviation Administration maintain a resident musicologist to plan these moments? — and, at the end, the customary Rachmaninoff effusion to heighten the blood-sugar level of all in attendance.
Missing were the customary soaring archways of balloons that have kicked off previous Bowl seasons. Missing too was the customary celebratory crowd: down this time to a paltry 9,213. Neither guest conductor Andrew Litton nor piano soloist Yefim Bronfman are yet among music’s top crowd-getters, which is not to say that they both aren’t on their way.
Litton, 34, has just taken over the Dallas Symphony. Judging from his recent recordings (mostly on Virgin Classics), long, uncut performances of the more ponderous side of the Russian repertory are among his specialities. The unabridged Rachmaninoff Second Symphony (for which even the composer had sanctioned extensive cuts) cantilevered this time over 64 minutes, the kind of thing that can give tedium a worse name.
Litton, however, did what he could to maintain momentum in music that can defy any such attempts. A worthy exponent of the crouch ‘n’ leap (aka Bernstein) style of conducting, he did nothing to downplay the music’s gurgling, howling flamboyance. More elevated musical values, after all, had been tended to earlier in the evening, in Bronfman’s elegant, considerate reading of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto.
At the start, there was the customary “Star Spangled Banner,” followed by Berlioz’s “Roman Carnival” overture, both rather stolidly delivered.