Lionel Bringuier reviews
A Young Maestro Takes Control
"Are you ready for a 20-year-old conductor? You ought to be, because he's ready for you. His name is Lionel Bringuier, and he conducted the Basel Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night. This was a closing event of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, held in Davos, high up in the Swiss Alps. The meeting is known for its kings, presidents, and prime ministers, its CEOs, "social entrepreneurs," and writers. But there is usually a small arts contingent, as there was this year. Valery Gergiev, the famed Russian conductor, was present, although he did not perform. He didn't conduct, that is; he performed on panels. Also, Michael Hersch was present. He is a young American composer of increasing reputation. I should not forget to mention Peter Gabriel, the legendary rocker. And a second Russian, besides Mr. Gergiev, was on the scene: the great violinist Maxim Vengerov, who received the World Economic Forum's Crystal Award. This bauble has been given to many a distinguished artist over the years. Mr. Vengerov was being honored, not only for his artistry, but for his work as a UNICEF ambassador. He has played for children in remote and troubled parts of the world. Unfortunately, Mr. Vengerov didn't play anything at Davos — not even something quick and unaccompanied (such as a movement from a Bach partita). But he gave an exceptionally graceful speech, emphasizing the healing power of music. Some hours later, the spotlight belonged to Mr. Bringuier, that 20-year-old maestro. He is a Frenchman, born in Nice, and he studied the piano and the cello, in addition to conducting. Esa-Pekka Salonen, music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, recently named him an assistant conductor. To see a 20-year-old instrumentalist is commonplace; to see a 20-year-old conductor is very rare. The Swiss orchestra that Mr. Bringuier conducted on Saturday night — the Basel Symphony Orchestra — came together in 1997, the result of two Basel orchestras that merged. The World Economic Forum let us know that the orchestra has players from 18 countries and five continents, and that these players speak 12 separate mother tongues. So, this is a "multinational team," an example to us all. Mr. Bringuier and the orchestra began their concert with a piece by Tan Dun, the Chinese-American composer whose opera "The First Emperor" premiered at the Met last month. This piece was "Dragon and Phoenix," an "overture" to the symphony called "Heaven Earth Mankind." Tan Dun wrote this symphony in celebration of the handover of Hong Kong to Communist China in 1997. "Dragon and Phoenix" begins with a type of fanfare, then proceeds to something war-like. As usual with this composer — and with today's music at large — there is an army of percussion. Before long, the piece smells of the American West, believe it or not. It is a Chinesey "Rodeo" (the Copland score). And, at the end, orchestra members yell "Hey!" Young Maestro Bringuier conducted with assurance, and proved deft with his cues. The Basel Symphony Orchestra — BSO! — played decently, respectably. Its cellist contributed a gorgeous and nimble solo. Next on the bill was Tchaikovsky's "Rococo" Variations for cello and orchestra. The soloist was Li Wei, 30 years old, born in Shanghai. At 13, he moved to Australia, then went on to London, where he still lives. And he did a magnificent job with the Tchaikovsky. He was musical, tasteful, and altogether exemplary. His rendering of the theme was suave, and he caught the character of each variation. And yet the work was completely unified, not segmented. His phrasing was elegant, and his passagework neat. He expressed appropriate drama and emotion, but made his playing largely Classical. The final variation had its hopedfor joy. Li Wei's performance was aristocratic, beautiful, and exciting, all three. And Mr. Bringuier matched his soloist on the podium. The concert ended with Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," or rather, five excerpts from that ballet. Throughout, Mr. Bringuier showed a clear understanding of this well-loved score. He was musically reasonable, which is not to say without flair — he had plenty of that. But everything was natural, and unshowy, and right-seeming. Mr. Bringuier was self-possessed, in obvious control. But he was never stiff or didactic. Last among these excerpts was "Romeo at Juliet's Before Parting," and it was effective for its understatement. Mr. Bringuier could have milked this more, and he may do that later. He will probably loosen up, just a bit. And it will be interesting to see what he can do with a better orchestra (such as the L.A. Philharmonic). And rest assured that you will hear him with better orchestras. It's always risky to say that someone, in any field, is can't miss, but it's not so risky in this case." By Jay Nordlinger, New York Sun, January 30, 2007 LA Phil Assistant Conductor to the Rescue "LOS ANGELES — Gustavo Dudamel has stiff competition awaiting him at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. That was the impression left by Lionel Bringuier, the orchestra’s 21-year-old assistant conductor, who substituted last weekend when Stéphane Denève cancelled after the birth of his first child. Fellow Frenchman Bringuier left the all-Gallic program unchanged, the familiar – Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” and “La Valse” – coexisting with the rare – Poulenc’s Concert in D minor for Two Pianos and Roussel’s Symphony No. 3. The forced limelight did not appear to intimidate this tyro. Yet neither was he glib. At the March 16th concert, his readings emerged as engaged and sharply limned. Philharmonic subscribers may have recognized him from an appearance in late January, when he conducted the chamber orchestra in four performances of Britten’s “War Requiem” under Lorin Maazel’s baton. His success there, toiling for an especially demanding maestro, suggested the satisfaction he provided at these concerts. The “Tombeau” was immediately striking for a lightness of ensemble bordering on airiness. Rhythmically free and tonally fresh, it offered a particularly fine showcase for the woodwinds, especially principal oboe Ariana Ghez. Only in the final movement, the “Rigaudon,” was there a hint of coarseness in the brasses, but otherwise this was a notably elegant account. Poulenc’s Double Piano Concerto proved the program’s highlight. Naturally, listeners familiar with this composer expected a work of wit, craft and effervescence. But even with that in mind, the concerto – Frank Braley and Eric Le Sage were the imported soloists – still succeeded in surprising, its first movement a cross between a Romantic piano sonata and music underscoring a “Tom and Jerry” cartoon. Bringuier balanced the work’s humor with its more serious aspirations, which he made sound like Chopin channeled through Rachmaninoff. He was especially impressive in handling the subtle harmonic shifts, making even the most abrupt seem organic. For their part, the soloists offered wonderfully animated contributions, their touch light-hearted and fleet. Braley was particularly appealing in the wistful arpeggiated figurations near the end of the first movement and in the Mozartean riffs at the opening of the Larghetto. The surging finale of the concerto provided a perfect segue into the post-intermission thrusts of Roussel’s Third Symphony, an exhilarating work that Bringuier kept disciplined – no mean feat for a piece that might best be regarded as France’s answer to a Shostakovich symphony. Certainly the number of players required approaches Slavic proportions. Bringuier kept the orchestra focused and energized, even as it approached the work’s tumescent kaleidoscopic finale. The players were clearly responsive to his leadership. In Ravel’s “La Valse,” the program’s built-in encore, Bringuier opted for a raise-the-roof totentanz, rather than a meditative waltz. Once again, he relied on airy, transparent textures to makes his musical points, his approach at once elegant and virile. Perhaps sensing that this was what patrons would most remember about the evening, the young maestro worked the orchestra into a frenzy, pressing the hall’s acoustics to ear-splitting, and in the process summoning a climax that can only be termed orgasmic. Bringuier obviously possesses real podium gifts, both intellectual and emotional. Seeing him perform with such aplomb when the pressure is on suggests a musician with staying power, and one whose presence on the scene has been duly noted."
By David Mermelstein, MusicalAmerica.com, March 12, 2008