Mr. Ehnes, the Bow Man of Aug. 18th at the Hollywood Bowl

Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2009 –James Ehnes, Violin. Conductor: Bramwell Tovey, that rare Brit with a genuine American sense of humor and the ability to share composition history from a personal perspective.

Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide: Overture,” touched on the Oompa, liveliness, and hurried pace. It echoed soft footsteps picking up pace with the timpan drums.

Then, Samuel Barber’s “Violin Concerto, Op. 14,” Allegro, Andante, Presto in moto petuo. And Mr. Ehnes. Upon the very first note played, the music of James Ehnes, bow man, violinist, and the LA Philharmonic Orchestra was symphonic. Lively, quirky, albeit accompanied by short bleats of a hapless automobile anti-theft alarm quickly extinguished.

Mr. Ehnes, a thirty-something reminds me of my dentist, strides on stage in his formal white jacket, black pants, shoes, and black bow tie looking all the world like he should be stooped over a drafting table somewhere in Iowa. Testing his strings, consternation flickers. He has forgotten to unbutton his jacket. Snap. Quickly he is lost in the tentative bowing and act of listening known as warming up.

From his first strings, sweetness flows. We of the audience don’t yet know how lucky we are to have our Section H seats located just under the soft white flood-lit cross that beams over head.. There are no bad views.

His music slips forth playing with us, our ears. Violin tucked so one half the bow tie sticks out, he is impish. Serious. Earnest. Ardor of youth brightens his face, magnifies his aura. The Orchestra surges. Then again Mr. Ehnes has his say. Gliding, pouncing, bowing. He saws sweet sounds out of nothing. A long slow draw. Lightness. Strings made to sing for us. The Orchestra follows bravely, made to follow a genius Mover of Strings, the Bow Man.

Questions for audience: How do we describe beauty? Musical odes to passion? Why is that we, the lucky Bowl-ers, hear these questions, ruminate in key seeking answers. How full our ears and spectacular the sounds. Chords and notes written decades ago prick our senses. We sit, the lot of us, spellbound.

Post-Intermission, Barber’s short bridge to the next piece. Bernstein’s “On the Waterfront” Symphonic Suite. In fairness, it was not the best compliment to rapturous violin and Mr. Ehnes. In fact, there probably was not right choice. Leonard Bernstein’s compositions have become familiar to us all in musical scores for film and TV. Decided strains from “West Side Story” masked the ears ability to “hear” the rumble on the docks.
That said, the Orchestra played Bernstein’s composition well. Strapping music. Brando at 20. Heaviness simmers. If you lick your lips, you taste from the harbour. I thought I saw Karl Malden standing on the grassy promontory behind the Bowl. Head held high, back erect. The music was fussy, agitated, shaken, and twice stirred. An after dinner drink to Mr. Ehnes, Tovey, Brando, and Malden.
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