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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Los Angeles Philharmomic / Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Yunchan Lim, piano. Shi-Yeong Sung, conductor

Rachmaninoff Concerto No. 3 Aug. 1 in Hollywood

ODYSSEY IN THE SEARCH FOR YUNCHAN AT HOLLYWOOD BOWL

by Abby Wasserman
Tuesday, August 1, 2023

The GPS at 6 p.m. August 1 predicted a half-hour to get to the Hollywood Bowl from Westwood, so we left the Japanese restaurant on Westwood Drive at 7:10 with a parking pass and e-tickets ready for the concert featuring conductor Shi-yeong Sung and soloist Yunchan Lim with the L.A. Philharmonic, something I’d been anticipating for two months.

Ten minutes later we were in the middle of a colossal go-slow, with traffic getting thicker every minute. I watched the GPS anxiously. Our arrival time was now 7:58. We were losing time. I couldn’t believe this was happening after all my planning and eagerness to hear my favorite young pianist again. We finally arrived at the entrance to the Bowl’s parking on Highland Avenue. We were so close; all we needed was the policeman to motion us in. But no: traffic from three directions flowed while we waited and waited. Finally our moment came to turn into the parking lot. We showed our pass to cop, and he told us he would try to get us in, but we’d have to wait for a break in the traffic so we could make a quick turn through the intersection. Finally parked, I leapt out of the car and could hear music! Already! Was it recorded or had the Rachmaninoff 3rd already begun?

We went through the gate and began climbing the hill toward our seating. Yunchan, so far away it seemed I was looking at him through the wrong end of binoculars, was halfway through the first movement. The sound was magnificent and there were high definition screens showing what was to the naked eye a tiny figure in a white dinner jacket.

It was Yunchan in miniature, not the way I’d seen him in person at Steinway Society’s San Jose concert last September. We grabbed the first empty seats we came to, and heard the first movement’s cadenza, which turned out to be the “Ossia,” not the shorter cadenza he had played at the Cliburn Competition. The Ossia is a virtuoso showpiece, and pianists tend to play it at breakneck speed, blurring its intricate architecture, but Yunchan Lim seems not to be interested in speed for its own sake, and every chord in the cadenza’s rich structure fitted beautifully into the rest of the movement.

As dusk moved into night, the first movement came to a tranquil close. We quickly sought better seats with the help of an usher who told us that we could find out real seats “when the song is over.” The heavenly second movement began and I finally relaxed. I was really present after so ardently wanting to hear him play the concerto I have watched on my computer so many times. I’m a real fan. I reviewed his recital in San Jose last September for Classical Sonoma, and met him briefly and took his photograph after he slipped out the stage door. I have listened many times to his January Wigmore Hall recital and his sublime recital at Myeondong Cathedral in Seoul. Now I felt I was in a crow’s nest looking down at a diminutive scene, but my ears were full of his music. The sound was huge and immersive. The instrument he was playing had a deeply resonant sound, bell-like in the soprano range and bone-stirring in the bass.

The Philharmonic, led crisply and cleanly by Ms. Sung, was thrilling in itself. I loved her conducting, and the black tuxedo with tails that she wore. I hope she’s in the running to replace Gustavo Dudamel, who is going to the New York Philharmonic to conduct.

The next morning I did some research, because I thought the concerto was so right for Hollywood—flashy, poignant—it seemed to be made for this city of magical effects. In 1939 Rachmaninoff moved to California with his wife, intent on devoting the rest of his life to composition. He purchased a hillside estate with a swimming pool on Tower Drive in Beverly Hills, also a modest house with a small garden on Elm Street. Vladimir Horowitz lived near the Tower Drive property, and the two men met and performed frequently for each other. Stravinsky, too, was in residence at the same time.

Rachmaninoff had expressed love for the Hollywood Bowl’s natural acoustics, and in 1942 Horowitz performed the 3rd Concerto there. It was especially glorious to be at the Bowl feeling their presence. Mr. Lim’s performance was emotional, violent and tender, lyrical and witty, and drop dead gorgeous. He played with maturity, assurance, strength and nuance, and every note was clear as crystal. I loved hearing how his interpretation has evolved over a year of performing the concerto with different orchestras.

At the end the audience of 22,000 cheered, and after three curtain calls Yunchan played one encore, Chopin’s Étude Op. 10, No. 3, with tenderness, passion, and expressive rubato. Leaving the Bowl’s parking lot was nearly as difficult as entering it had been, but after hearing Yunchan Lim on this moonlit night, it hardly mattered.