A Captivating Performance by Conductor Anna Rakitina: A Glimpse into the Future

by Barbara

The lingering question that accompanies every conductor stepping onto the stage to lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic is whether they possess the potential to succeed Gustavo Dudamel. At the recent event hosted by the Hollywood Bowl, Anna Rakitina demonstrated her prowess, sparking conversations about her potential as Dudamel’s successor.

Anna Rakitina, renowned for her contributions as the assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, boasts a strong connection to Los Angeles. Having previously served as an LA Phil Dudamel Fellow (2019–2020), she has conducted several youth and community concerts at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Rakitina’s debut at the Bowl commenced with a vibrant interpretation of Antonín Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B Minor, featuring soloist Sterling Elliott. However, it was the emotional depth of the program’s second half that truly showcased Rakitina’s capabilities. Born in Moscow to a Ukrainian father and a Russian mother, her direction of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 in D Minor evoked a complex web of emotions from the Stalinist era.

The intriguing facet of Rakitina’s conducting style lies in its subtlety. Her gestures and baton cues are graceful and understated, contradicting the notion that flamboyance equates to talent. Her facial expressions remain subdued, eschewing the dramatic intensity often associated with conductors.

Yet, the magic lies in the music itself. Rakitina skillfully orchestrates her ensemble, allowing individual instrumental voices to emerge, blend, and create a captivating emotional journey. These qualities epitomize the mark of a skilled conductor. While her demeanor may favor understatement and comfort, her musical prowess is nothing short of enchanting, leaving audiences spellbound without unveiling her tricks.

Sterling Elliott’s second solo performance at the Bowl encountered a few bumps during his rendition of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto. Wrestling with the venue’s acoustics, he occasionally erred on the side of overemphasis, leading to intonation issues and moments of exaggeration.

In the Adagio ma non troppo second movement, Elliott’s 1741 Gennaro Gagliano cello found its voice, delivering a lyrical and gentle performance that contrasted the power of the opening movement.

As Elliott tackled the climactic third movement, his playing exuded virtuosic flair and passionate emotions, even sneaking in moments of joy.

The LA Phil’s longstanding connection with Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony resonates, with past performances conducted by frequent guest Kurt Sanderling. Insights from Sanderling’s personal friendship with the composer lent a unique perspective to the symphony’s tormented history. Particularly memorable was Sanderling’s interpretation of the third-movement Largo, a rendition that left an indelible impression.

Nevertheless, Rakitina now enters the orchestra’s legacy with pride. Her handling of the opening movement deftly balanced martial grandeur with introspective solemnity. The Allegretto danced with an almost tipsy exuberance, while the Largo resonated with a poignant ache, echoing perhaps the current turmoil surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The finale ignited with explosive energy, a testament to Rakitina’s dynamic direction.

This performance was an opportunity to witness the LA Phil’s virtuosity, showcased through the lens of the Bowl’s screens, capturing the violin solos of Martin Chalifour, the keyboard mastery of Joanne Pearce Martin, and the resounding brass and winds. As the Largo’s final notes fell like melting snowflakes, principal harpist Emmanuel Ceysson’s expression remained unforgettable.

In the midst of buzzing helicopters, clinking wine bottles, distractions, and glowing cell phone screens, Rakitina demonstrated her ability to lead and create a mesmerizing musical experience. This performance not only highlighted her skills but also hinted at the promising future she holds in the world of orchestral conducting.

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