So you want something different on classical Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Hollywood Bowl? The Los Angeles Philharmonic made a perhaps bizarre, perhaps prophetic leap in that direction Tuesday night. They turned members of the orchestra and the Latin jazz band Salsa Dura — separately and together — loose upon the most overplayed piece on classical radio, Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” It might have been the most representative Bowl concert of the year, if not all time — in effect bringing together the classical, pops weekend, world music and jazz series into one sometimes uproarious hothouse.
Actually, this unlikely salad of Baroque and salsa did not originate here; trombonist Jimmy Bosch, his arranger-conductor Jeff Lederer, the young Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto and conductor Nicholas McGegan started doing this elsewhere four years ago. That they were able to get McGegan — the jolly, highly respected Baroque period performance specialist — in on this project from the beginning speaks well for their intentions, as well as McGegan’s yen for unpredictable adventure.
In the first two concertos, the two ensembles generally traded off; for example, the Philharmonic played the first movement of the “Spring” concerto straight, followed by Bosch and company’s salsa-fication of same. Sometimes Salsa Dura would play Lederer’s Vivaldi paraphrases from the charts; sometimes the band took off on Afro-Cuban vamps that departed entirely from Vivaldi.
Kuusisto, a flamboyant soloist who has been taking his Nigel Kennedy pills, employedmicrotones and edgy scratching passages, gradually merging with Salsa Dura’s Afro-Cuban world as he swapped licks with Bosch. By the third concerto, “Fall,” the Philharmonic started feeling its way into salsa country, coming together with Salsa Dura in a riotous mambo.
But does it work? Your first reaction when Salsa Dura comes in is shocked laughter — a splash of salsa in your face. Yet soon enough, you realize the cleverness of Lederer’s scheme. “The Four Seasons” was one of the world’s earliest examples of program music — and Rey Bayona’s lead vocals (in Spanish) followed Vivaldi’s own colorful written descriptions of the seasons almost to the letter (although it is difficult to reconcile the winter visions with the hot, tropical music).
In the end, the Italian Baroque and Afro-Cuban music still have little in common, but there’s no denying the life-affirming joy that erupts when the two cultures collide. And McGegan’s brisk, brilliant renditions of Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks” and Concerto Grosso Op. 3, No. 2, before intermission generated a verve and zest that salsa fans could also appreciate.