December 14, 2008
Two encores was not enough following the conclusion of tonight’s concert, featuring Makoto Nakura on Marimba. But let’s start at the beginning: A few months ago, I had no idea what a marimba was (think xylophone, but much bigger, and with wood bars arranged like piano keys), until I saw a picture in the LACO brochure. I was instantly intrigued and have been excited for tonight’s concert since. Because of my interest, I decided to arrive early – I had known for a long time that before each LACO performance there was a Concert Prelude – a discussion about that evening’s music. I had never been, but tonight I went, and heard Nakura, LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane, and composer Pierre Jalbert talk about some of the basics of the marimba, and Nakura demonstrated some techniques. It was a fun 30 minutes – educational and lively. But most of all, it got me more pumped to see Nakura in action.
Unfortunately for me, the first half of the concert was surprisingly light on marimba, which is to say that there was none at all. There was a lovely serenade by Strauss, and a lovely Haydn symphony, but the marinba stayed tucked away in the back corner. During the serenade I spotted this instrument I didn’t recognize, and started thinking that maybe it was a euphonium, since I know that’s the name of an instrument but don’t know what it is. After the serenade ended, my friend Kristy corrected me and said it was a contrabassoon, and said euphoniums look more like little tubas. She added that she didn’t think euphoniums were commonly used in chamber music. Well, I would like to see one at a LACO concert. Who can I call to make that happen?
Now it was time for what I was waiting for – the second half – with Nakura playing marimba during a concerto that had never been played in the US before. Nakura was rapturous, and I couldn’t take my eyes away. Sometimes he played with two mallets, sometimes with four, and by the end, I was amazed at how versatile and dynamic the marimba can be, and in awe of the focus and dexterity that Nakura obviously has. His hands were a blur, flying up and down that giant playing surface. It was magical.
Then came the wild applause, the multiple curtain calls, and the encores. Nakura played two instantly recognizable pieces – first, “Flight of the Bumblebee,” and then, after more applause, “Ave Maria.” Each was short – maybe 2 minutes tops, but thrilling. While the concerto was fantastic, and it certainly showcased Nakura’s talents, it also was new, and unfamiliar. The encores, though, were relatable – and I gained a whole new appreciation for Nakura’s ability by seeing them in a context that I recognized.
Usually before I end a piece, I like to tease what I’m going to write about next. This time, though, I have no idea what I’ll write about (does anyone have any requests?), so I’ll end this, my final blog of 2008, with a thank you to all the readers for embracing me as a new voice on the LACO blog page. I’ve enjoyed writing this blog so much, and look forward to continuing in the New Year. Until then, Happy Holidays, and see you at the next LACO concert!