Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

LACO newbie

the touchdowns and fumbles of LACO's season ender

May 17, 2009

It’s been a week of finales for me – 3 of my favorite shows, The Amazing Race, The Office, and 30 Rock all wrapped up their seasons this week, as last night, I went to LACO’s final concert of their 40th season. In past blogs I’ve written about how much fun it is to watch the guest artists that LACO brings in (like Makoto Nakura and Joana Carneiro), and last night, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of guest pianist Jonathan Biss, who played during the Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor. He played with such force that, at times, his whole body, from his feet to his shoulders to his jowls, would shudder and shake and recoil, like he had just fired a shotgun. He’s passionate and focused and nuanced, and, ultimately, more interesting than the Concerto. But the Concerto, in turn, was much more interesting than Biss’s slow and snoozy encore (he said what it was, but he didn’t have a microphone, and I couldn’t hear him). Every piece can’t be a gem, I suppose, which brings me to Radiant Mind, that was performed for the very first time last night.

I love that I’ve been a part of numerous premieres this season at LACO, simply because it’s thrilling to witness something new. Radiant Mind, though, was pretty disappointing. As someone with limited musical knowledge or vocabulary, I’ve learned over the course of this season that I respond to music that’s evocative. I struggle to articulate why I like the pieces that I do (which I’m sure is evident to long-time readers of this blog), except to say that they stir something inside me, and in that moment when I sit up straighter or creep to the edge of my seat because music, like other things, can be thrilling, suspenseful, and breathtaking. Radiant Mind, though, was the opposite – dreary and swampy, and it didn’t stir a thing.

The second half of the concert, though, was much more enjoyable than the first half, with the highlight of the evening being the lively “Ritual Fire Dance” by de Falla. I wish they had played more of it, actually, but I’ll hear more of it as soon as I find it on iTunes and download it to my iPod.

Another interesting moment during the concert was in the pause between 2 pieces, when conductor (and LACO Music Director) Jeffrey Kahane mentioned the fact that funding for the arts is suffering in our current economic climate, and pointed out that the revenue from this year’s Super Bowl could fund LACO’s entire operation for 60 years. “Something’s wrong with this picture,” he said. Now, arts funding is a complex and fascinating (and contentious) topic, and one that even I, a loyal arts supporter, don’t have a clear opinion on. So, I’m not going to open the giant can of worms. But I will say that Kahane’s comparison is unfair. The Super Bowl is the single largest television event, sporting or otherwise, in the world. Of course its revenue could fund LACO until the end of time; it’s probably larger than the GDP of a lot of countries. But it’s well-earned. The reason NBC was able to charge so much for commercials is because they were able to deliver an audience to advertisers of nearly 100 million people in the U.S. alone. And LACO, bless it, will come nowhere close to reaching that many people, even cumulatively, in the next 60 years. I’m unclear on Kahane’s point, but if it’s that he thinks it’s unfair the common, populist Super Bowl can rake in so much dough while his non-profit orchestra suffers, than he should consider putting away his comparison and dusting it off again when LACO has the ability to command the attention of an entire country.

I love the performing arts, and my LACO subscription, which is very generously given to me at no cost in exchange for these blogs (and yes, I realize I might be biting the hand that feeds me), is one of six that I keep, and the other five I pay for. Two of those five have cancelled or postponed programming because of financial reasons, and that’s really awful. But I applaud them for taking the steps they need to ensure survival, and, I’m certain that LACO has and/or will do the same to ensure theirs. They better, because I love going to LACO concerts, learning new things, and exposing myself to new composers and pieces, and I’m thankful I have the chance to share my thoughts with all of you, and hopefully, illustrate the point that don’t need to have played an instrument from age 4 or earned a music degree to enjoy the experiences LACO has to offer.


I have to tell you that I am a little disappointed in this final blog post from the season. I have enjoyed reading your blog all year, and I was really looking forward to hearing your thoughts about the concert, and I would have loved to hear what you thought about the final piece of the concert.

But I must correct one aspect of your comments above. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has a much broader reach than just a regular concert at Royce Hall or the Alex Theatre. Hundreds of thousands of people hear broadcasts of our archival performances each year, and hundreds of thousands more get to attend concerts during LACO's tours, both domestic and abroad. With the various educational and community engagement projects, thousands of children each year get to experience a LACO concert and talk with the musicians.

As someone who loves the Super Bowl, and enjoys the commercials, I think that the ultimate reach of any arts organization is larger than that of a single Super Bowl telecast. But, I don't think the comments made were intended to imply that one should replace the other... I think it was a simple illustration of how much money is spent on a single experience, and how even a small investment in the future of the arts can make a huge difference.

All of this aside, I thought this concert was amazing. I loved Radiant Mind, and that just shows that we are all stirred by different things in music. And that is what makes it great. I wanted to share what I liked about th piece: I was taken by the instrumentation, I loved the solo section with the bassoon, contra bassoon, bass clarinet and English horn (instruments that seem so rarely featured). The driving beat of the low piano created intensity in the piece that did cause me to sit forward. I thought the use of a rotary valve piccolo trumpet was fascinating, and I learned about the sizzle cymbal for the first time. But, most of all, I loved the ending - for those of you at the pre-concert, we were given the chance to hear about how the ending was re-written just this week because the composer didn't think it was complete... fascinating. Anyway. The first and final pieces of this concert were my favorite, and I just wanted to share. Thank you for your thoughts, and I look forward to future blog posts as well. I certainly agree whole-heartedly that anyone can enjoy the experiences LACO has to offer.

  • —Lacey, May 18, 2009 11:06 am

Not to put words in Jeff's mouth, but I think he was getting at a broader point - that as a whole, we are a nation (and a world) that overvalue spectacle and undervalue experiences that involve thoughtful reflection and/or exploration of the human soul. Which is not to say that you shouldn't enjoy or find meaning in or spend money on whatever strikes your fancy, but we should perhaps consider how our lives would be affected for the better if that kind of cash was also available to artists.

  • —Michelle, May 18, 2009 10:45 pm

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