Review: LA Phil world premiere of Caroline Shaw’s “The Observatory”

Posted on: September 4, 2019

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony “was not the main newsmaker” at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 27, writes Richard S. Ginell in Monday’s (9/2) Classical Voice North America. “Rather, it was the world premiere of an LA Phil-commissioned work approximately one-fourth the length of the Ninth, The Observatory, by the ever-busy, ever-more-interesting, 37-year-old Caroline Shaw. With big, pounding chords that eventually seem to fray dissonantly on the edges as an opening, Shaw evokes not so much Beethoven as the opening tread of Brahms’ First Symphony…. But before long, the piece … picks up a thread of good old American minimalism in a riff for strings. Gradually, the music sheds its weight…. The violins go into a crazy pattern, and J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 makes a fleeting cameo appearance…. Shaw says that she visited the Griffith Observatory high above Los Angeles during the genesis of the piece…. she saw the city below as a series of moving parts…. Xian Zhang, music director of the New Jersey Symphony, led the LA Phil…. Even though Shaw’s experience of writing for orchestras is limited, in this piece and in Watermark—first done in Seattle on Jan. 31—she does it with a flair and thoughtfulness.”

Posted September 4, 2019