newbie blog: haydn in london

Think, feel, take a deep breath, listen and enjoy – I felt like that was what Sunday’s program, Haydn in London, was designed to achieve, and they accomplished just that.

The evening started with Lutosławski’s Musique funèbre (1958), a string piece dedicated to the memory of Béla Bartók. The one-movement piece walked us through the Prologue, Metamorphoses, Apogeum and Epilogue. The emotional center of the piece is the Apogeum, a distressing outcry of grief and loss. Hearing it, I can only imagine it expresses the long suffering of a composer and a country that endured despite the pain. The music had a deeply emotional impact on me.

This piece also represented a turning point in his career. In his words, “it is a beginning of a new period and a result of my long experience. I tried to create a range of means that would become my own. And it is the first word – though obviously not the last one – spoken in what is a new language for me.” I was amazed by the comment, as the piece seems so fully developed and mature despite it being his “first words.” I guess this is a testament to Lutosławski’s mastery as a composer. I was also very moved and impressed by the near-flawless performance of the Orchestra.

The second piece of the evening was John Adams’ The Wound Dresser. Adams sets Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name over an orchestration reminiscent of the battlefield: unrelenting, endless and spectral. The poem is sung with expertise by baritone Brian Mulligan. Mulligan’s voice is rich and powerful, like dark roast coffee and chocolate. He breathes emotion into Whitman’s explicit yet unembellished description of the aftermath of battle. He brings the compassion and pain in the piece to the forefront. Each and every element of this piece, the music, the poetry and the voice, were wonderful. However, I felt the whole fell short of its parts. The vocalized poetry never really intertwined or incorporated with the music. The two ran parallel to each another, but never quite married. This kept me from becoming fully engaged with the piece, though not from appreciating the excellence of the performers.

Then, we took a breath.

After intermission, we were treated with Haydn’s Symphony No. 98 – and hat a pleasure it was! It was scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, a keyboard instrument (fortepiano originally) and strings. Though somewhat less famous than the “London Symphonies” (such as the Surprise, Military, Clock or Drumroll), it takes a back seat to none in terms of quality and ingenuity. Also, did I recognize a bit of “God Save the King” in there? Shout out to the soloists, they were just lovely, including a charming, pastoral trio in which the solo doubles the violins’ melody. The Finale remained unpredictable throughout. There was a particularly delicious moment at the very end, an eleven-measure solo bit for keyboard, which was just delightful (especially the turquoise harpsichord on which it was played)! I understand that Haydn wrote it for himself as an aural equivalent of a painter’s signature in the corner of a canvas.

Lastly, we heard Rossini’s overture from his opera, The Italian Girl in Algiers, a lovely, lively confection full of energy and novelty. You have to admit the man had faultless comic timing! The piece opened with the same gag that Haydn used in his “Surprise” Symphony: lull the audience with a quiet, unassuming opening, then hit them right between the eyes (ears?) with the whole Orchestra. HELLO! There wasn’t a dull moment in the entire piece.

One final note: one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about Jeffrey Kahane is the context that he gives when he speaks about what the Orchestra is going to perform for us. As a novice fan of orchestral music, it enhances my listening experience greatly and stimulates my interest to learn more. I really appreciated that Carlos Kalmar, the guest conductor for the evening, did that as well. His thoughts and comments were illuminating, charming and educational. I hope that whoever follows in Kahane’s footsteps will also recognize the value of these expository moments, as I feel it can only solidify and broaden the audience for this wonderful orchestra.

do not remain silent

Saturday was a long, long day. I attended the Women’s March on LA and carried their official banner. I’m not a spring chicken and was still beat on Sunday, so I didn’t really want to go to the concert. How fortunate that I did! Instead of being something I tiredly sat through, it was just the tonic my sore body and soul needed. What a remarkable event!

The evening opened with the U.S. premiere of Weill’s “Song-Suite for Violin and Orchestra”, performed without interval and beautifully arranged by Paul Bateman. The exuberance and enthusiasm of the Orchestra, with Daniel Hope as violin soloist, lifted my spirits and created a feeling of light hearted well-being in the house.

Jeff Kahane is a superhero. Before leading the West Coast premiere of Bruce Adolphe’s Violin Concerto “I Will Not Remain Silent”, he pulled a copy of the US Constitution from his pocket and said, “We must not, cannot and will not remain silent.” Standing ovation. Kahane has developed such a sense of intimacy in his relationship with the audience over the years that we know how personal this is for him. His passion and conviction are inspiring. This performance was compelling, conveying the fear and constant weight of living in Nazi-occupied Berlin in the first movement while and bringing us to America during the struggle for civil rights with all its upheaval and turbulence in the second. Daniel Hope’s violin, a little rough and very rich, became the individual voices, striving to be heard.

After the intermission—and a moment to calm ourselves—we were treated to Pink Martini’s Storm Large with Hudson Shad, the vocal quartet, as her chorus. Singing the dual Annas in Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, Large showed her mastery of both the innocence and licentiousness of her character’s splintered personality. In keeping with the sentiment of the night, she donned the symbol of the Women’s March, a pink, pussy-eared knit cap for a small portion of the “Wrath” section.  It was Powerful. Yes, with a capital P. And if there was anyone who wasn’t teary-eyed and feeling very patriotic by that point, she came back with an encore of her own creation, “Stand Up for Me”, a moving love song that took on an even deeper meaning for us all. Not a dry eye in the house. But what an inspired and inspiring night!

Thank you very much for that, LACO. I will not remain silent.

 

– Kathleen Carreiro © LACO

project trio fever

I did actually get the fever … so, sadly, I had to leave at intermission and missed the Mendelssohn. I did, however, get to hear the Mozart. (Do I even have to say it? I love me some Mozart!) I was also present for one of the most amusing performances I’ve seen so far at LACO: the Adam Schoenberg piece “Scatter” performed with guest ensemble PROJECT Trio.

Oh, and I must mention that the guest conductor, Alexandre Bloch, is a charmer. He was wearing a fantastic shiny black suit and the worst brown shoes in history, and I thought to myself, “How will I be able to listen to the music with those horrible shoes staring at me!?” I mean, they were all kinds of awful. Then, he proceeded to tell us how he’d been swimming at the beach and been stung by a stingray and his foot had swollen and turned weird colors and these horrid brown shoes were the only ones that still fit him. This little anecdote set the tone for the evening: personable, funny, festive, a delight. And if I’m being honest, I completely forgot about those hideous shoes until now.

The program started with Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D Major. The thing I really love about Mozart is his way of luring you in with his wonderfully lyric facility, inviting you to follow along blissfully as he exercises his creative virtuosity, spinning out more and more complex variations on a theme until you’re suddenly hit with just how deep in to the music he has taken you. In this, the “Prague” Symphony, you can hear the composer straining at the limits of what the Orchestra and the form can do. In particular, the opening movement’s main allegro is remarkable. This is the longest single symphony movement of the 18th century and stands out to me as Mozart’s biggest compositional challenge as a symphonist. He tasks himself with giving coherence to his creative invention and doesn’t quite manage it, but that in and of itself is thrilling. Of course, this magnificent chamber orchestra plays the heck out of it, and Bloch’s very kinetic conducting style drives them confidently through the lively Presto and home again.

The guest ensemble on the second piece, PROJECT Trio, is taking chamber music to a whole new level. Based in Brooklyn, beat-boxing flutist Greg Pattillo, Eric Stephenson on the steel cello and Peter Seymour on the double bass are an interesting group of guys. In addition to performing high energy, top-quality tunes, they are breaking apart traditional ideas of chamber music. On Sunday, we were treated to the West Coast premiere of Adam Schoenberg’s “Scatter,” which was written specifically for PROJECT Trio’s unique gifts. A single-movement, 18-minute score which, in addition to the traditional Orchestra, employs pop, funk and electronic sounds made by a computer played by a percussionist. PROJECT Trio’s website describes it thusly, “The overall architectural narrative is: slow/atmospheric-subtle groove-disjointed motion-high speed groove-epic bang”. I agree. They were wonderful and hilarious and perfect. These men pack an enormous amount of personality per cubic inch. They did an encore called The Bodega, which was such a treat that I’m going to link you to a video of it so you will know what I mean. I certainly hope to see more of them. Enjoy!

freaks, fiddles & fanfare

The program for the second concert in this season was delightfully refreshing and eclectic. It had humor and peril and bombast and earthiness. Very appropriate for a Hallows Eve!

The evening began with a lovely tribute to Sir Neville Marriner, the founding conductor of LACO, who recently passed away at the age of 92. In a very sweet moment, the conductor-less Orchestra played a Larghetto from Elgar’s “Serenade for Strings.”

Guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard, current Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, is a tall and lithe Danish man who conducts with zest and precision. His conducting never dragged, yet never seemed hurried. The orchestra was bursting with life and clarity. He built momentum with ease. There was a particular lightness and relish in the back and forth between the Orchestra and their kinetically fearless leader pro tempore.

The first piece, “A Freak in Burbank” by Swedish composer Albert Schnelzer, was inspired by Haydn and Tim Burton. It’s mischievous, unpredictable and playful. The piece captures the sweet spot of chaotic dark humor characteristic of Tim Burton’s work. Dausgaard’s long, black-suited limbs enthusiastically leading the Orchestra really added to the feeling of the piece, calling to mind the figure of Burton’s beloved character Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The influence of Haydn’s inventiveness and rhythmic propulsion could also be felt in the piece.  It was a highly enjoyable romp!

Next up was Finnish composer Sibelius’ “Six Humoresques.” These are delightful to listen to, especially when performed by the outstanding Norwegian soloist, Henning Kraggerud, who is also an experienced composer.  He has great technical virtuosity that appears to be very grounded and organic. It meshed beautifully with the untroubled charm of the Humoresques. My favorite was the 5th, a showy and playful piece in which the soloist displayed the full range of his technique. The 6th brings this agreeable suite to a soothingly introspective conclusion.

Finally, breaking with the night’s “Scandinavians take over LACO” theme, we have the stuff of symphonic legend, BEETHOVEN’S THIRD! What can I say about this? It’s magnificent. It’s gigantic. Its expressive range runs the gambit from comic to tragic to heroic. It’s jaw dropping in its ambition and scope. What’s really interesting about this piece is that it was originally entitled “Bonaparte.” Beethoven composed it as a memorial to a man (Napoleon) he hoped would inspire all of Europe to an egalitarian revolution. In May 1804, Napoleon betrayed Beethoven’s idealization and declared himself Emperor of France (he was crowned before the Pope in December of that same year). With that, Napoleon became to Beethoven a “tyrant” who would “think himself superior to all men.” In his rage, he renamed the symphony “Eroica”. Thus, what began as an homage to a great libertarian with humanist ideals evolved into the longest and largest-scale embodiment of musical life force Beethoven ever created, in my opinion.  The symphony itself becomes the hero! An excellent outcome.

One last thing: congratulations are in order for Claire Brazeau, the newly-appointed principal oboist (she has a great Instagram feed, by the way: @oboejones). The orchestra will also be welcoming Joachim Becerra Thomsen as principal flute in January of 2017.

the agony and the ecstasy

I really love Jeffrey Kahane, and I will certainly miss him when he’s gone. It’s so enjoyable to watch him while he’s conducting. Enthusiasm and passion flows from him into the Orchestra. The musicians respond with an equal measure of enthusiasm and awe, as the audience revels in this passionate back-and-forth communication. My favorite “Kahane moment” happened last season, when he conducted Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G major. His conducting had been particularly expressive, with some wonderful examples coming in the Largo and then, in the Finale, he actually stepped off the podium and just turned the Orchestra loose. He looked out at the audience, wearing an expression that seemed to say “deal with it.” It was definitely a “drop the mic” moment, and it endeared him to me forever. Don’t go, Jeff! Sigh.

On Sunday, the last piece played was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. I think Richard Wagner’s poetic account says it best: “All tumult, all yearning and storming of the heart, become here the blissful insolence of joy, which carries us away with bacchanalian power through the roomy space of nature, through all the streams and seas of life, shouting in glad self-consciousness as we sound throughout the universe the daring strains of this human sphere-dance. The Symphony is the Apotheosis of the Dance itself: it is Dance in its highest aspect, the loftiest deed of bodily motion, incorporated into an ideal mold of tone.”

Right? Aside from all the fabulous tumult and yearning, there was a great teaching moment from Kahane and another charming personal reveal. He illuminated for us that Beethoven’s 7th was influenced by Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, and that there is a direct connection between the meter of that poem and the familiar rhythm of the slow movement. He also told us that he had learned to read Greek (for goodness’ sake, come on) in order to really understand all of this, and then gave us a brief lesson on the dactylic hexameter of Homer. These little moments always add great texture and context to the performance.

The evening began with Bach’s Cantata No.51, which was written for services at his Lutheran Church. It includes a very complex and technical solo for a soprano, magnificently sung by Joelle Harvey, and a solo trumpet, played by the exceedingly able David Washburn. I have no critique of the virtuosity of any of these fine performers, but I did not resonate with this piece. It is very complex and each layer creates something of an idiosyncratic fantasia. It’s just too much for my taste, like an exhilarating hot mess. Very well done, but Bach could have done more with less, in my newbie opinion.

Mozart’s “Alleluja” was more to my taste – if you read my blogs from last season, you all know I love me some Mozart. While this piece also required a wide range and great technical excellence from the Harvey, I felt that the less elaborate orchestration allowed me to appreciate her talents more easily. I didn’t feel as overwhelmed by it. It was a sweeter and more joyful experience overall.

UCLA is lucky to have Movses Pogossian on their faculty. He is a beautiful violinist, seemingly made for Tigran Mansurian’s Violin Concerto No. 2. The work, titled ”Four Serious Songs”, is dark, introspective and deeply meditative. Pogossian seemed on the precipice of something deathly, the Orchestra calling out to him to leap. His violin keens, at once halting and searching, then climaxing in a passionate minute-long soliloquy. The catharsis was stunning. The Concerto’s final moments elevate us to a higher plane, tranquil and hopeful, having passed through the shadows and out again into the light.

What a marvelous way to start the season.

unbreak my heart

Noooo… the last concert of the season! Noooo… the last chance to hear Allan Vogel (oboe) and David Shostac (flute), who are retiring after 85 years of combined service to the orchestra. I am not happy about any of this, having come to know LACO and its wonderful musicians somewhat late in the game. I feel like I’ve missed out all these years living in LA. Oh yeah and also, noooo… next season is Jeffrey Kahane’s final season as Music Director. Rats. HOWEVER, they are still an amazing chamber orchestra, the individuals who succeed the wonderful retirees will be accomplished musicians. We will also have the opportunity to witness the next step in LACO’s evolution with a new Music Director. Things to look forward to… even though our hearts are kind of broken.

I was unfamiliar with LACO’s Sound Investment program, which was launched in 2001 as a way of developing funding for commissioned projects and to offer people a glimpse inside an artist’s creative process. Sound Investment members contribute toward the composer’s fee and production costs of the premiere performances. In return, each investor and a guest are invited to attend three composer-commissioner “salons,” held over the course of the orchestra’s concert season. It’s a great way of engaging the audience on a profound level with those who compose, conduct and perform music. A very cool idea, I think. On Sunday evening we saw their latest commission, Matthew Aucoin’s Evidence. What a wonderful opportunity for a young composer riding the crest of a wave to present his work and to connect with his audience in a more intimate way. I very much enjoyed hearing his thoughts and the context he gave us before we listened to his piece. He is very talented and very young and I look forward to following his career and seeing his growth.

Mozart. Ya know I love him. Piano Concerto No. 17 played by Marc-Andre Hamelin was a special treat for me. The composer has such mastery (in my opinion) and inventiveness and in the hands of a pianist with such great facility, the stunning slow movement had an almost “breath on the face” intimacy. The finale is a set of variations building to a freewheeling cadenza type of thingy (I believe that is the technical term for it). Mr. Hamelin is one of those virtuosos for whom nothing seems to hold any difficulty. He’s an interesting guy, not overtly emotional, clinically precise in his playing and yet you do feel that he has unwrapped himself before you. I think it’s that he’s so elegant. He’s ardent, but practiced. I loved it. It was exquisite.

And Schumann’s Second Symphony! Large sweep, many emotions, gorgeous detail! Schumann was really living when he composed this baby. It was a wonderful way to end the season. LACO doing what it does so well, playing a masterpiece masterfully. Maestro Kahane doing what he does so well, conducting the wholly living hell out of it. The loyal audience enjoying every note of it, every fist pump, every heroic overtone and fanfare. We sailed off in to our Sunday evening on a wave of Romance, our hearts repaired and ready for next season.

Thanks so much.

every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man

This evening’s concert included a surprise special treat for me! My dancer daughter was unexpectedly home and attended with me. Plus, it was delightfully warm and the terrace off the bar was a heavenly spot to sit and have a glass of wine with her before the concert began. It was a delicious way to begin an evening of beautiful music and, it turns out, beautiful musicians, as well.

I’d like to take a moment to laud the concertmaster, Margaret Batjer (beautiful person number one). She has held this position since 1998, has soloed with numerous major orchestras (the first time being at the age of 15) and is the creator of LACO’s Westside Connections chamber music series. She is a constant, strong presence at every performance I have seen and deserves a shout out. So, I SEE YOU, MARGARET!!

Guest conductor, Matthew Halls, was charming, energetic and expressive. He seemed very intelligent and precise in his interpretations of Prokofiev and Haydn and I appreciated his illumination of their similarities and where they diverged. Beautiful person number two accounted for…

Mason Bates wrote his remarkable Cello Concerto for the evening’s cellist, Joshua Roman. The concerto focused primarily on the abilities of the instrument itself, rather than a sound storyline. While not precisely my “cup of tea”, I enjoyed the integration of styles and sounds, the meshing of lyricism and percussion in the supporting orchestra. Joshua Roman is a treat: prodigal, sassy and emotive (his facial expressions!). His bowing and plucking were a visual and auditory delight. Such a natty dresser too (beautiful person number three). Big smiles and applause all around for this presentation from the audience. And in return for our love, a sweet, sweet encore for us from the adorable Mr. Roman.

Prokofiev’s first symphony was composed in 1917 while he was on holiday as an exercise in composing away from the piano (cuz I’m that productive on vacay, aren’t you?). He declared his intention was to create an original piece of music in the classical style inspired by Haydn while remaining true to his more modern sensibilities. SUCCESS! Classical in structure and form, but bitingly modern in its tonality and rife with his own devilish wit, it reminds me of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, something fiercely new packaged in the familiar symphonic proportions of Haydn. A delight.

Finally, Haydn’s the “Clock” Symphony (the Andante, with its ticking accompaniment, gives the symphony this nickname). This is my favorite of his. I feel like it was written for the crowd as well as the connoisseur. It’s filled with wonderful touches and the finale is nonstop brilliance. It moves with ease from simplicity to high drama. And those wonderful firm three chords at the end always make me smile. And the clock keeps running.

fusion and multitasking

First things first – let me just say thank you to the universe for the timing of this particular program. My husband was NOT happy to attend with me on Sunday. He had just flown in from a trip and has been battling a heaping dose of the grungy cold virus that’s going around. He loves me and knows I don’t like going by myself to events, so he came along, grumbling… until he heard the word “jazz”. The light returned to his eyes and he perked up even further upon hearing “improvisation, vibraphone and percussion”. Yay!

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Gernot Wolfgang’s (yes Wolfgang and also an Austrian) “Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds – The D.A.R.K. Knights” is a delicious salad of jazz and lively, lyrical classicism and was written specifically for David Shostac (flute), Allan Vogel (oboe), Richard Todd (horn) and Kenneth Munday (bassoon), who all together have about three hundred and fifty seven years of musical experience (I kid, but they are heavyweights). He wrote this piece to their specific abilities and the solos of Shostac and Todd included improvisation. We were also treated to percussive improvisation, wonderful “shivery” violins, the brass bending notes, and a level of attentive alertness to one another that I have not heretofore seen in this orchestra. Don’t misunderstand me, they are always cohesive and attentive musicians, but the format of this particular composition seemed to illicit a very noticeable uptick in each individual musician’s attention to the others. It was quite enjoyable and different, and as Bill Murray said in Groundhog Day, “different is good”. I’d love to hear more of this kind of music at LACO.

Clarinet Concerto in A Major. I did not know that Mozart wrote a concerto for the clarinet! Well, not exactly the clarinet, but a fusion of the clarinet and a basset horn called (surprise surprise) a basset clarinet, a custom deal that has a range down to low C, instead of stopping at E as standard clarinets do. Joshua Ranz, who looked a bit like the instrument he played, (long, tall, thin, dressed in black) was wonderfully charming in his on stage persona and made the most of the quick passage work and contrasting slow tempos. His solo was magnificent. I believe that Mozart shows the capabilities of an instrument in what he writes for it better than almost anyone. And the clarinet is a delight, the life of the party, as the program notes state.

For me, the particular appeal of Mozart’s Concerto in D Minor, is that it‘s only one of two written in a minor key, and the most overtly dark, dramatic and impassioned. Dramatic Mozart – wonderful! Still elegant and crisp, but somewhat stormy between the orchestra and piano, lovingly played by Maestro Kahane, the multitasker. Poor, poor Jeffrey. If only he were talented… conducting the orchestra, while playing the piano in one of Mozart’s most esteemed concertos (Beethoven kept it in his repertoire). It was so great to see him communicating with the orchestra in this layered way, creating a musical dialogue in which he not only directs the orchestra as a whole entity, but interacts with them, speaking essentially the same language, appropriating and embellishing their themes, enhancing both them and enriching the solo piano personality.
So, will you allow me a short rant? Thanks. It drives me bananas when audience members leap up after the last piece and bolt for the door so as to be first in line to get out of the parking garage. How much time do you really think you’re saving? It seems so dismissive of the orchestra. And you MISS things. On Sunday, if you bolted, you missed Jeff Kahane come back and play an encore (a diverting version of “America the Beautiful”). The scamperers who hadn’t made it completely out the door when he came back on found themselves hurrying back down the aisle and flinging themselves into the first available empty seats. It just seems wrong to me. I have never waited more than ten minutes in that parking lot after the show. Give the orchestra their due. Stay and clap for them, wait to hear the encore (it’s such a treat). They just gave their all to us for almost two hours, give them another 20 minutes of your time, please. End of rant.

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the circle of life: time is a flat circle or what goes around, comes around…

Last night’s program at Royce Hall was an interesting one for me. I heard sublime music. The listening experience was delightful. I do not know why every performance by this wonderful orchestra isn’t completely sold out. They are A MAZ ING. Los Angelenos need to get a clue…

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Faure’s Pavane ebbs and flows in a series of lovely harmonic and melodic climaxes. For me, it’s reminiscent of Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’. It brings to mind a person remembering earlier days of adventure and travel (it has a hint of the exotic in it). It also reminds me of the lyric from Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’, “Son, can you play me a memory, I’m not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes.” It is sad and sweet. And short, an amuse-bouche, but for the ears (amuse-les oreilles?).

Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 2 follows on this theme in terms of returning to one’s past. This piece is impressive to me in its construction and was expertly executed, but I am not as moved by this style of music and so the story of this piece is more interesting to me than the piece itself. Schoenberg began work on this Symphony in 1906, put it away and brought it out again a few times and finally let it rest, unfinished in 1916. He returned to complete the work 33 years later subsequent to a request from conductor Fritz Stiedry, who asked him for an orchestral piece for his New Friends of Music Orchestra in New York. Schoenberg wrote to Stiedry, “For a month I have been working on the Second Chamber Symphony. I spend most of the time trying to find out ‘What was the author getting at here? Indeed, my style has greatly deepened meanwhile, and I find it hard to reconcile what I then rightly wrote, trusting my sense of form and not thinking too much, with my current extensive demands in respect of ‘visible’ logic. Today that is one of the major difficulties, for it also affects the material.” I don’t know if his return to this piece was sentimental, but it is interesting to observe the return to tonality in his later years. Small and unrelated bit of trivia for y’all: Arnold had triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13).

In my opinion, Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye was the musical high point of the evening. Ravel’s music is often described as exquisite, and this orchestral version of Mother Goose is certainly that. It‘s full of subtle details and wildly varying combinations of sounds. I am pretty sure I heard every sound that each of the instruments is capable of making in this one piece! There was screeching and plucking and tapping and delicacy and the lowest of the lows to the highest of the highs. It is unique and authentic and, I believe, reveals something of Ravel’s basic nature: playful, seeking, articulate and adventurous. Again, another reflection on the theme of remembrance, childhood and things past.

In comparison with his 7th and 9th, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93 is much lighter and good humored. It continued the night’s trend of remembrance of things past, retreating to a classical style as he did in his even-numbered symphonies. It is buoyant and witty (the first and last measures of the 1st movement are the same), the minuet contains false downbeats and his “little Symphony in F” concludes with a long and charismatic coda. Because Beethoven, right?

All of this beautiful music was brought to us through a marvelous collaboration between the orchestra and their guest conductor, Matthew Pintscher. Maestro Pintscher is a busy guy. He’s director of Ensemble Intercontemporain, is formally associated with the BBC Scottish Symphony and the Danish National Symphony and is the newly appointed principal conductor of the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra. He also teaches composition at the Juilliard School in New York. He’s really good. LACO is really good and they were really good together. The sound he draws from the orchestra is clean and precise, like a fine point pen, but it’s also full and emotionally lush. He gave them his full attention and they gave him theirs. Shades of things to come? We shall have to wait and see. As I said, he’s a very busy guy.

The only thing I missed in this performance was Maestro Kahane’s commentary. Being a musical “newbie”, I really enjoy his contextualization of the pieces. The “signposts” he provides during his comments, help me draw more from the performances and I come away feeling enriched in my understanding of the music and curious to know more. I look forward to hearing more from him when he returns next month.

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if it’s baroque, don’t fix it

I love the Baroque Era in music and art. It’s always exquisitely rendered, with a staggering amount of complexity. It’s beautiful and satisfying and diverting. Because of its essential playfulness, I have a bit of difficulty taking it seriously, so I was very interested in what I would learn from Maestro Kahane about JS Bach’s Cantata No. 140 “Sleepers Awake,” at this past Saturday’s Discover Concert in Pasadena.

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Jeffrey Kahane first explained the Cantata was written for the last Sunday in the ecclesiastical year, which calls for giving thought to the second advent of Christ. The spoken sermon for this date would be taken from the parable of the ten virgins waiting for the arrival of “the bridegroom”. The Cantata is a celebration of the “soul’s impending union with its Saviour”. Kind of heavy stuff, right? He also broke down the structure of the piece, giving vocal and instrumental examples of recurring themes and motifs so we would have a better understanding of the import and meaning of what we were hearing when, after intermission, the entire Cantata was performed flawlessly by the Orchestra, the USC Thornton Chamber Singers, the LA Children’s Chorus and soloists Kathryn Mueller (soprano), Colin Ainsworth (tenor) and Andrew Craig Brown (bass). We were also provided with a translation into English of the German lyrics, which was great as it allowed me to connect with the story (with which I was unfamiliar).

Kahane also gave us some examples of current events that personally connected him to the sentiments of Bach’s Cantatas. They were beautifully bittersweet true tales of unconditional love and unreserved sacrifice for one’s fellow humans and they made me cry, at both the inhuman cruelty of the situations that led to the sacrifice and the power of true brotherly (sisterly) love. Even though the individuals involved made the ultimate sacrifice, their stories gave me hope that the “best” in us will prevail overall. I felt the examples were much more connected to the passion and crucifixion of Jesus, rather than the resurrection or the Second Advent, but I got the general connection he was making. I enjoyed very much receiving insight into Kahane’s intellectual and emotional process when preparing to present a piece to the public.

One of the coolest things about Bach’s creative gifts was his ability to conjure up seemingly endless, expressive melodies within the symmetry of two chorale fantasias and a four-part closing chorale, which framed two sequences of recitative and aria. Another thing I liked was how he jumped in with both feet and gave us not one, but two duets with slightly over the top romance-y, almost bedchamber entendres (“I am yours, – love will never part us. I will with you – you will with me – graze among heaven’s roses, where complete pleasure and delight will be.”) that seemed designed to make everyone fidget a bit. It very effectively brought home the human experience of a passionate readiness to accept Christ into the physical body as well as the heart and soul. It was shameless. Bach was a Cantata original gangster.

A final comment – the audience was invited to sing along with the last chorale after the performance. More audience fidgeting, but I thought it was a nice touch. All in all, an enlightening evening.

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