Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

LACO newbie

a dress rehearsal

September 15, 2008

With the LACO season now just weeks away, I’m slowly realizing that there’s a huge element to this blogging gig that I haven’t addressed yet: I’ll need to write about music. Specific pieces of music. Now here’s the rub – I’ve never done that before, and I’m not sure how to do it. It’s intimidating. Although it’s understood that this blog is coming from a ‘newbie’ perspective, it’s still potentially going to be read by musicians and aficionados, and even though I can’t identify many instruments or time periods (but I like saying the word ‘rococo’) I don’t want to look like too much of a idiot. So I found a piece of classical music I’ve never heard before, and I’m gonna write about it right now. Consider it a trail run. A dress rehearsal.

The piece of music is actually an album, called “Speaks Volumes” by Nico Muhly. I heard about 15 seconds of it during an NPR story about Houston’s classical music scene, and was intrigued enough to contact the station so they could identify it, which they kindly did. That’s right, I’m a go-getter. Muhly is some sort of hotshot composer superstar, and he’s only 27. His compositions are performed all over the place, he’s worked with Philip Glass and Bjork, and the New Yorker ran an 8-page story on him, of which I read the first 3 paragraphs, before deciding I want to listen to the music without knowing his entire life story.

And the music is… well, here’s where I’ll start to fumble around. It’s strange. Let’s start with that. It’s strange to listen to, because a lot of the time it doesn’t seem to make any sense. It changes tempos, and it sounds like some of it was made up on the fly. During some sections, it sounds like the musicians are tuning their instruments, and other times it sounds like they’re all playing the same piece of music, but they’re not on the same page. It’s aggressive, too – It’s pounding, and there are unexpected blurts and bursts of sound that linger longer than you’d think. And it’s upsetting, because traditional elements, like rhythm and melody, are absent, or at least heavily manipulated.

So – strange, aggressive, upsetting. They’re not qualities I’d want in, say, a puppy or a child, but I guess I don’t mind them in music, because I can’t stop listening to this album. It’s fascinating and hypnotic, and I enjoy being suckered in by sounds that bare little resemblance to anything else I listen to.

Well, that’s it, I suppose. I don’t know what else to say. How should one end these things? If it were an actual review, there would be a recommendation, I imagine. So should you go out posthaste and pick up a copy of “Speaks Volumes”? Um, sure, if you want to. Or don’t. I don’t know if you’d like it; I don’t know who you are. Maybe you should go on iTunes and listen to the free 30-second samples first. Yeah, get a taste of it – and go from there. And tell me what you think – there’s a comments section below!

Before I go, I want to thank those who commented on my last blog, providing clarification on the differences between types of musical groups. The comments were helpful, and confusing. And helpful. And confusing. Next time I address the issue, I’ll need to make a venn diagram or something. As for my next blog entry, I’m learning about Beethoven.

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