Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

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listen while you work

November 04, 2010

listen while you work

My official job title is “development associate,” but within that innocent-sounding phrase is an overflowing cornucopia of different tasks I’m responsible for. I write grants, I edit program notes, I process donations, I check music titles for errors, and so on. The only characteristics these tasks share are solitude and the ability to listen to music while performing them. While I sit at my desk, and if I’m not too busy bothering the cubicles around me with tuneless whistling (sorry, marketing!), I put on some large noise-cancelling headphones, turn on some music and start working.

From day to day, I can never really predict what music I’m in the mood for until I start diving into my to do list. I always think I know what I want to listen to, but thanks to the beauty of streaming music on the internet, I often spiral into a deep pit of non-methodical musical madness. I start with Ravel at 9:01, and by 12:30 when I come up for air — and lunch — I realize I’ve somehow travelled through some Schubert that led to Britten (via Ian Bostridge) that turned into Ligeti etudes with a pit-stop along the way for a smattering of Rihanna and Blossom Dearie, and ended with John Coltrane playing “My Funny Valentine.” People can complain about the scattered method of listening iPods supposedly promote, but when you want to hear the majestic postlude to “Ich Grolle Nicht” from Dichterliebe because a particularly grandiose gesture in a Sufjan Stevens song made you think of it, you can do just that. And isn’t that great?

While in the office, I’ve given myself a new listening project. I browse LACO’s CD library and pull out recordings that have A) an unfamiliar work by a composer I like, B) an eye-catching cover (I’m a sucker for great cover art), or C) music by a composer whose name I recognize but whose music I’ve never heard. Needless to say, if a CD is entitled “Baroque Favorites” or something of that oxymoronic nature, it gets put back (Baroque is not my favorite, nor do I have any favorites that are Baroque, so it’s an easy omission). So now I have made myself a pile of To Listen To While I Work. And I will not rest till I have listened my way to the bottom of the stack.

Cued up the jukebox we have:
Gernot Wolfgang: Common Ground: Groove-Oriented Chamber Music
George Tsontakis: Violin Concerto No. 2
Anna Clyne: Boosey & Hawkes sampler
Thomas Adès: Violin Concerto: Concentric Paths
Lisa Bielawa: Double Violin Concerto
John Luther Adams: Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing
Barber: Violin Concerto
John Powell: The Bourne Identity Score
John Harbison: Mirabai Songs
Mason Bates: streaming on his website

Looking at the list in its entirety, there are some unusual themes. For example, why am I in the mood for Violin Concertos? Dunno. It’s not my favorite form by any stretch, but I have, for reasons known only to fate, put three on my list. Also, I have a few works that mix live instruments with electronica —Anna Clyne, Mason Bates, John Powell — which seems to be a new trend in classical music, and one I’m in favor of. Other than those obvious connections, I’ll have to wait and see what else emerges as I get further down the list….

Occasionally I have a “themed music workday;” last Friday was Mason Bates Day and the day before that was A Salute To Anything Recorded by Mitsuko Uchida. Having a musical theme can be a great unifier of your day’s musical diet, or it can limit you. Honestly, I like the feeling of not knowing what’s around the musical corner while I’m listening to online radio and trying to figure out what the opus number is for that Schumann song on the first Westside Connections program. Those sudden shifts in aural mood keep you alert, keep your brain chugging along.

It’s this jamming-different-music-types-together style of listening that has me really excited for the next two Orchestral Series concerts. The December concert, spotlight on LACO , features Daniel Kellogg, Osvaldo Golijov, Copland, Wolf and Schumann. I’m really picky about music, but I can honestly say I’m excited about all the works on the program, and am looking forward to seeing what happens when I hear all these works back to back…it will be interesting to see what connections can be made, what commonalities I’d never think to listen for will pop up when least expected. The following concert, haydn’s drum roll , features an intriguing sandwich: Mozart and Haydn are the standard, delicious bread, and Lutosławski is the prickly and unknown filling. That’s a pretty unappetizing food metaphor, but you get my drift, right? Two known entities surrounding a modern surprise. Hard to beat.

What do you listen to while you work? Bach? Van Halen? White noise? Let us know in the comments!

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