Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

LACO newbie

foreign soaps, a missing right hand, and a world premiere!

October 05, 2008

It was a night of milestones at the Alex Theater tonight. It was the kick-off to LACO’s 40th season. The concert included a World Premiere, commissioned by LACO. And it was my first LACO concert as the Newbie Blogger. I thought it was a nice moment when Jeffrey Kahane, after intermission, recognized all the subscribers, especially the ones that had subscribed for decades. And the program listed the years that each musician joined LACO. I counted five that had been here longer than I’ve been alive. My friend Jen, who came with me to the concert, pointed out that those musicians may not want to know such facts, but I think it’s a testament to the organization that their musicians stick around for so long. Now, onto the music!

The first piece, Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Wind Instruments, Percussion and Strings, featured little solos throughout by all seven wind instruments, and it seemed like a story was being told. It reminded me a little of Peter and the Wolf, in that the seven winds all seemed to have varied and specific roles, but without the actual story. The tone and spirit of the piece was vivid, energetic and dynamic, and it all seemed to make sense to me in an odd way, like when you stumble across a soap opera in another language, and although you can’t understand it, there are enough hints in expressions, music, and the actors’ delivery that you just know the busty brunette is pining for the chiseled cowboy who, in turn, lusts over the naive (but also busty) maid.

Then Richard Todd came out with his horn, front and center, for the second piece, Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, because I quickly noticed how remarkable his breath control was – for as much as he was playing, he hardly seemed to breath at all! So impressive – I bet he’s really good at holding his breath under water. But I also have a few questions, for those of you “in the know”: What’s the difference between the horn Todd was playing and a French horn? Is there one? And I couldn’t tell, because I was sitting on the other side of the theater, but did Todd stick his whole right hand inside the horn? Is there a handle or knob in there? Is he making a fist? Does the way you hold a horn affect the sound? And a couple times, in between movements, Todd turned away from the audience, held the horn up at eye level, and seemed to spit into it or something. What was he doing? Pipe up in the comments section if you know any answers.

The concert continued with the World Premiere of Richard Todd’s ceLebrACiOn (you may remember I had some fun with the title in an earlier blog). It was evocative and magnificent. After a dramatic opening, it turned jazzy and sultry, and I imagined a dame in a trenchcoat flirting with a private eye on a humid night. From there it exploded, with tempos and sounds layering upon themselves. It was so cool hearing a style of music suggestive of a jazz club but fully and lushly orchestrated for so many instruments. What a feeling Todd must have had, when it ended and the thunderous applause began. And what a feeling I had, being part of the first audience to ever hear ceLebrACiOn performed! When’s the ceLebrACiOn CD coming out?

There was one piece after the intermission – Mozart’s Symphony No. 39. I saw this in the program and thought: No. 39? How many symphonies did the guy write? I must be honest, though – I tuned out during this one. It was perfectly lovely and pleasant, and I don’t know why, but my mind wandered. I had read the program notes about the differences in the 4 movements, but I was so out of it, I only counted three of them. Whoops.

All told, it was a fantastic evening, and I extend my congratulations to everyone at LACO on their 40 years. On my next blog, I’m working out.


I really enjoy your blogs, David; they are refreshing, humorous, and actually quite erudite. I appreciate your observations and candor.

Let me take a crack at your questions: With regard to Rick Todd's horn and a French horn, the answer is "nothing"; there is no difference. As I mentioned in my blog, Rick in fact plays a "French horn," although it has been modified by the Hans Hoyer Horn Company to meet his personal specifications. (The reason I put "French horn" in quotes is because it is not truly a French instrument, and in most countries, it is referred to without any nationalistic reference. Only in English-speaking countries is it called the French horn, and the International Horn Society would like to change that, preferring "horn" as the correct name of the instrument.)

Secondly, yes, Rick does put his whole hand inside the bell of the horn, partly to hold it in that manner, and partly to change the sound of the horn, according to the position of his hand. There is no handle or knob in there; he just holds his cupped hand against the metal of the horn.

Finally, when Rick turned away from the audience, he was pulling a small loop of the tubing apart, so that he could empty and blow any accumulated saliva out of the horn. Rather than spitting into the horn, he was ensuring that saliva did not collect there, since it could cause a "burbling" which would distort the beautiful quality of the horn's sound.

  • —Bob, October 08, 2008 06:11 pm

As a horn player, I just want to add to Bob's comment regarding the saliva (to which many of you are thinking, "gross!"), it isn't all spit - most if it is simply condensation. If you blow warm air through a cold brass tube... water tends to collect. :)

  • —Lacey, October 08, 2008 06:15 pm

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