Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

LACO newbie

the drought is over!

September 26, 2010

The drought is over. LACO’s back! The 2010-2011 season kicked off tonight with Infinite Enchantment at the Alex Theater, and after racing from Reseda, I made it into my seat just as the musicians were walking onstage to begin the concert. I don’t recommend anyone cut it as close as I did, but I was quite pleased with my perfect timing! And, as it turns out, I was thrilled that I didn’t miss anything, because the concert began with some of Mendelssohn’s lovely pieces from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was the perfect way to start a concert, and an entire season, with music written to accompany a cast of characters disappearing into the woods. There’s a reason the marketing geniuses at LACO called this concert Infinite Enchantment, and this piece was it. It calmed my racing heart (which was pumping from all the bobbing and weaving on the 134) and instantly reminded me of what I’ve missed in the past 5 months – amazing musicians playing tremendous music. As an added bonus, I feel that attending this concert can now excuse me from actually seeing a Shakespeare play for at least another year or two. And before everyone barrages the Comments section defending the Bard, let me just add that I’ve seen tons, and read more, and I’m just over it. They’re all classics – I get it. I’d just rather see the classics written by Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller.

Getting back on subject, A Midsummer’s Night Dream was followed by a vigorous and rousing performance of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with guest artist Leila Josefowicz on violin. What a stunning 22 minutes! I loved the piece – it was eerie and moody, with one unexpected transition and tempo change after another. As anyone who’s read my prior blogs knows, there’s little I like more than an unsettling piece of music. Ms. Josefowicz, meanwhile, was mesmerizing to watch – she was expressive, and it seemed like, from where I was sitting, she was connecting with her violin in an intense way, almost like she was coaxing the sounds out of it. I’ve never heard a violin sound the way hers did – it seemed deeper, more aggressive, more sly.

The second half of the show was less exciting for me. I wanted to like Les espaces infinis (“The Infinite Spaces”) and Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 more than I actually did, and despite being in the Alex just hours ago, I can’t really remember it much of it at all (except the final 45 hectic seconds of the Hadyn was astonishing). I think I may have fallen victim to my own finite attention span – it seems like frequently I like the first act of LACO’s concerts more than the latter half, during which I’m more prone to drifting off, thinking about the rest of my weekend, creating to-do lists in my head, and so on. I can’t be the only one who struggles to keep focus, can I? What can I do about it?

While I’m asking questions, I’ll ask this one too: Why is it that the number of strings needed in a piece isn’t included in the instrumentation? The program notes that, for example, A Midsummer Night’s Dream needs: “2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, tuba, timpani; strings.” How many strings? Does the conductor get to decide? There seemed to be a lot of strings on stage, and I can imagine there’d be a notable difference in the sound if there were just a few more or less. Why can’t anyone be more decisive on the matter?

Lastly, I have to note how impressive it was that Julian Kuerti stepped in for ailing LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane as conductor this evening. I don’t really know how a conductor leads an orchestra, except that he or she would probably have to know the music intimately, and have an established rapport with the musicians who look to them for guidance. I’m not surprised at tonight’s performance – after all, a LACO concert has never let me down – but I was impressed nonetheless. A terrific start to the new LACO season!

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