bach & beethoven 7

Jeffrey Kahane and LACO have chosen some heavy hitters to open this concert season, and it’s no surprise; the entire season is going to be spectacular. If we think about the length of time it would take to listen to all of the music of JS Bach, Wolfgang Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, we would be listening to symphonies, sonatas, cantatas and concertos twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for three solid weeks. And I didn’t even include the work of the fourth prolific composer on this weekend’s program, Tigran Mansurian, who is in his seventies and still actively composing. Each one of these composers found ways to make their music, even as they overcame challenges that ranged from heavy workloads to financial troubles to serious illnesses.

JS Bach lived sixty-five years. He fathered twenty children, ten of whom lived to adulthood. He produced consistently throughout his career in the various jobs he held. The work that opens our concert is a cantata written by Bach, likely in 1730. In his job as cantor of the main churches in Leipzig, including the St. Thomas Church, Bach was called upon to write a new cantata every Sunday. Now, just in case you think this was a quick thing Bach could dash off in an afternoon, let’s go over just how complex one of these cantatas could be. Cantata No. 51, “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen,” which will be presented on this weekend’s concert, requires two skilled soloists, soprano (Joèlle Harvey, in our performance), and trumpet (played by our own David Washburn), along with an instrumental ensemble. The cantata has five movements, with a breathless opening that joyfully praises God, followed by an accompanied recitative that shifts the mood into more serious territory. A heartfelt aria forms the emotional core of this cantata. While listening to this, one might be forgiven for forgetting that this was a musical piece to presented in the middle of the Lutheran service and not some dramatic opera. It premiered on a regular Sunday on the church calendar—not even a holiday or feast day. But, Bach would not let us forget; the fourth movement is the Lutheran chorale, a feature present in all cantatas (whether they featured choir or soloists). In the case of Cantata No. 51, the chorale is “Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren,” a song giving praise and glory to God. The chorale—which alternates lines for the soprano soloist with music for two virtuosic violins—gives way without pause to a scintillating and contrapuntal “Alleluia.” This is not just some church music; this is a mini-drama! And he did this every week for years—sometimes very simply, sometimes with more soloists and a choir. All of the while holding down a job that required his attention throughout the week and seeing to the needs of a large family, including giving music lessons to his children. Bach had a secret weapon, though: coffee. Also he was brilliant.

Mozart’s productivity was pretty amazing, considering that he did not make it to his thirty-sixth birthday. But then, we must remember that Mozart started composing as a child, so he had a few years of work experience under his belt by the time most of us got our learner’s permit. He wrote his first opera-like piece (it was a section of an oratorio) when he was eleven. He composed symphonies, concertos, sonatas, string quartets, serenades, divertimenti and plenty of vocal music. When he was about fifteen, he traveled to Italy with his father Leopold, and composed a motet for a famous castrato of the Milan opera. It is this piece, Exultate jubilate that we will hear in the concert. Mozart was a fast enough creator and worker to be able to feel the stroke of inspiration and complete a piece within a matter of days. A lot of Mozart’s challenges were more difficulties of management than they were of creativity or output. By his last years, the struggle to make enough money to support a certain kind of lifestyle caused lots of stress, but through it all, Mozart kept writing. One veteran composer of music for television once quipped to me that he thought Mozart would have made a stellar composer of tv music: the man could churn out quality work in a pinch.

Tigran Mansurian’s fifty-year career as a composer was not without its ups and downs. As a composer in Armenia when it was part of the Soviet Union, Mansurian was not entirely free to experiment with avant-garde art music, one of his important influences. Rather than writing in a style that was not true to his artistic sensibilities, Mansurian found work writing film scores, which allowed him a little more leeway to experiment. His style also focuses on another important influence, Armenian folk music. Violin Concerto No. 2, “Four Serious Songs,” which Mansurian composed in 2006, suggests a reflection on grief and acceptance. With his title, Mansurian made reference to Brahms’ late composition Vier ernste Gesänge, which was composed after his long-time friend, Clara Schumann, suffered a stroke. Mansurian continues to compose even now, the political issues a distant memory, the challenges coming only from himself.

Our program ends with Beethoven. The ease with which Mozart seemed to compose contrasts starkly with the ‘tortured artist’ aesthetic Beethoven exuded. I’m sure you can think of one struggle Beethoven had on the road to immortality. Who would have imagined that one of history’s greatest composers would have spent nearly half his life with significant hearing loss? And that wasn’t all of it either. His health in general was not good. He probably had some sort of inflammatory bowel disease, and he suffered problems with his liver and kidneys, to say nothing of the migraines he endured. The figure of Beethoven is synonymous with struggle itself. We see it in his questioning “Heiligenstadt Testament” (a letter he addressed but never sent to his brothers considering how he might go on with his infirmity). We see it in the mad cross-outs and alternative versions that appear in his scores. And even though he outlived Mozart by more than twenty years, he wrote only nine symphonies to Mozart’s forty-one. But what majestic pieces they are! Born of passionate struggle. Each one evidence of dedication and hard work. LACO’s opening concert features the magical Seventh as its finale. This is the piece Wagner once labeled “the apotheosis of the dance.” Only the methodical theme and variations in the second movement (an absolutely perfect slow build) nods at the internal struggle. Otherwise it is pure elation. How Beethoven could access that feeling and somehow express it in music is the miracle. This concert will get Jeffrey Kahane’s farewell season off to a wonderful and joyful start.

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legacy society member profile – Susan Greenberg

When asked to share her favorite memory of the Orchestra, Susan Greenberg, former LACO flute and piccolo of 36 years, can’t choose just one. “It’s such a wonderful orchestra,” says Susan. “There were musical highlights with each conductor, because each of them had his or her own style. I can think of really exciting moments when the conductors brought out the essence of the music.” Susan remembers Neville Marriner’s style as simple yet exciting. His energy moved and propelled forward. Christof Perick and Iona Brown each had their ways of getting “inside the inside of the music.” She reminisces about touring to Europe, the beautiful venues in Italy and each performance of Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 she shared with David Shostac. “It was a thrill, I really loved the years I spent with the Orchestra.”

Susan, who played with LACO from 1975-2011, has enjoyed a versatile career as a soloist, chamber musician, symphony player and recording artist. The Los Angeles Times has described her playing as “brilliant,” “elegant” and “supple,” and has lauded her “panache” and “musical projection.” During her tenure with LACO, she was a frequent soloist, premiering a concerto for piccolo by Bruce Broughton and performing a concerto for flute, alto flute and piccolo written for her by Gernot Wolfgang. She has appeared as a guest soloist with the San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Monica and Napa Valley Symphonies and at the Hollywood Bowl. She has also performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Opera, New York City Opera, American Ballet Theater and numerous festivals including the Casals, Ojai and Martha’s Vineyard. Susan has recorded over 500 motion pictures and received many accolades for her playing, including the “MVP” award on flute from the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences. Currently the flute professor at Pepperdine University, Susan also serves as Co-Artistic Director of Chamber Music Palisades and is a proud audience member and Legacy Society member of LACO.

Despite her formidable resume, Susan remembers playing with LACO as some of the best moments of her career. “It was never a job. It was a love. I think most of the people in the Orchestra feel that way.”

It’s that feeling that inspired Susan and her husband Michael Norman to join LACO’s Legacy Society by including a planned gift in their estate. “As a player, I’m so grateful for the time I had in the Orchestra. It comes from a place of gratitude.” She urges others to consider doing the same, “It’s a wonderful way for your support to continue.”

There are many gift planning techniques that offer financial benefits to both the donor and LACO. Whether you are interested in reducing capital gains or estate taxes, or in receiving a fixed payment for life, there are many gift planning techniques that offer financial benefits to both you as the donor and LACO.

If you’d like to consider joining Susan and Michael in LACO’s Legacy Society visit laco.org/giftplan/ for more information or contact Sarah Singer at 213 622 7001 × 211 or sarahsinger@laco.org for more information about planned giving opportunities and benefits.

unbreak my heart

Noooo… the last concert of the season! Noooo… the last chance to hear Allan Vogel (oboe) and David Shostac (flute), who are retiring after 85 years of combined service to the orchestra. I am not happy about any of this, having come to know LACO and its wonderful musicians somewhat late in the game. I feel like I’ve missed out all these years living in LA. Oh yeah and also, noooo… next season is Jeffrey Kahane’s final season as Music Director. Rats. HOWEVER, they are still an amazing chamber orchestra, the individuals who succeed the wonderful retirees will be accomplished musicians. We will also have the opportunity to witness the next step in LACO’s evolution with a new Music Director. Things to look forward to… even though our hearts are kind of broken.

I was unfamiliar with LACO’s Sound Investment program, which was launched in 2001 as a way of developing funding for commissioned projects and to offer people a glimpse inside an artist’s creative process. Sound Investment members contribute toward the composer’s fee and production costs of the premiere performances. In return, each investor and a guest are invited to attend three composer-commissioner “salons,” held over the course of the orchestra’s concert season. It’s a great way of engaging the audience on a profound level with those who compose, conduct and perform music. A very cool idea, I think. On Sunday evening we saw their latest commission, Matthew Aucoin’s Evidence. What a wonderful opportunity for a young composer riding the crest of a wave to present his work and to connect with his audience in a more intimate way. I very much enjoyed hearing his thoughts and the context he gave us before we listened to his piece. He is very talented and very young and I look forward to following his career and seeing his growth.

Mozart. Ya know I love him. Piano Concerto No. 17 played by Marc-Andre Hamelin was a special treat for me. The composer has such mastery (in my opinion) and inventiveness and in the hands of a pianist with such great facility, the stunning slow movement had an almost “breath on the face” intimacy. The finale is a set of variations building to a freewheeling cadenza type of thingy (I believe that is the technical term for it). Mr. Hamelin is one of those virtuosos for whom nothing seems to hold any difficulty. He’s an interesting guy, not overtly emotional, clinically precise in his playing and yet you do feel that he has unwrapped himself before you. I think it’s that he’s so elegant. He’s ardent, but practiced. I loved it. It was exquisite.

And Schumann’s Second Symphony! Large sweep, many emotions, gorgeous detail! Schumann was really living when he composed this baby. It was a wonderful way to end the season. LACO doing what it does so well, playing a masterpiece masterfully. Maestro Kahane doing what he does so well, conducting the wholly living hell out of it. The loyal audience enjoying every note of it, every fist pump, every heroic overtone and fanfare. We sailed off in to our Sunday evening on a wave of Romance, our hearts repaired and ready for next season.

Thanks so much.

The Country Cousin

The Country Cousin won a Best Animated Short Award at the ninth annual Academy Awards® ceremony in 1937. It is based on the Aesop Fable “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse” which tells the story of a country mouse named Abner coming to the big city to visit his cousin Monty.

This was one of the more popular Silly Symphony cartoons and showcases advancements in character animation such as more dynamic character poses, more naturally fluid motion of the animation, and snappier action. Abner and Monty display much personality in their animation, which shows the further honing of the animation craft at Disney. This short pushes the art form, which benefited from the training going on at the studio during those years. Again, it was an indication of the desire to eventually do an animated feature film.

Some of the animators who were assigned to this short included Jack Hannah, Les Clark, Art Babbitt and Cy Young handling effects. It should be noted that Art Babbitt and Les Clark did the bulk of the animation for The Country Cousin short with the others doing some additional animation.

Les Clark had joined Disney in 1927. He worked on the original Mickey Mouse cartoons as an assistant to Ub Iwerks and began animating on the Silly Symphony The Skeleton Dance in 1929. On The Country Cousin he animated much of the section with Abner and Monty on top of table where they sample the cheese just before Abner spots the champagne. He went on to animate on most of the features from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs through 101 Dalmatians.

Art Babbitt started at Disney as an assistant and became a top animator and director. His first great piece of animation is considered the drunk Abner animation in The Country Cousin. Abner slurping champagne, licking the side of the glass for every last drop, and slumping into the shallow, broad-bowl of the glass like a lounge chair is a wonderful display of his animation prowess. He is also credited with developing the character Goofy and for animating both the Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Geppetto in Pinocchio.

As with all Silly Symphony cartoons, this short was created around a score, which was written by Leigh Harline. His scores are noted for their “musical sophistication that was uniquely ‘Harline-esque,’ by weaving rich tapestries of mood-setting underscores and penning memorable melodies for animated shorts and features.”

One of the very interesting aspects of this cartoon is that a storybook of the same title was issued when the film was released to theaters. David McKay Company of Philadelphia printed The Country Cousin picture book; at the time they were a large publisher of literature, textbooks, comics and children’s books. Issuing a book simultaneously with the release of the film was a common practice in the 1930s for the most popular Silly Symphony cartoons, including the earlier Three Little Pigs, which had a book of its own as well. It is a great example of the merchandise tie-ins that Disney pioneered and is known for.

Three Little Pigs

Three Little Pigs is arguably one of the most successful and well known of the Silly Symphony series. It is based on the popular fairy tale of the same name, which dates back hundreds of years. The Disney interpretation is the most recognized version and went on to win the 1934 Academy Award® for Best Animated Short Film.

It is the story of three swine brothers, Practical Pig, Fiddler Pig and Fifer Pig, who each build their own homes. Fifer Pig plays the flute, “doesn’t give a hoot and plays around all day” and builds his home of straw. Fiddler Pig, who “plays on his fiddle and dances all kinds of jigs,” builds his home out of sticks and, of course, Practical Pig, who plays the piano, builds his house out of bricks and mortar. We all know the outcome of this story once the Big Bad Wolf shows up!

The animation in this short was done by a number of Disney animation legends including Fred Moore, Norm Ferguson, Art Babbitt, and Dick Lundy. The short was a milestone in adding personality to the animated characters. You can see this in the pigs as well as the Big Bad Wolf in comparison to the characters in the previous short, Flowers and Trees.

Carl Stalling, who went on to become the legendary music director/composer for the classic Warner Bros. “Looney Tunes,” arranged the score for Three Little Pigs.

This short also featured the song Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, which became a smash hit in the 1930s. Frank Churchill wrote the song with additional lyrics by Ann Ronell. Mary Moder and Dorothy Compton, who voiced Fiddler Pig and Fifer Pig respectively, sang it in the film. Billy Bletcher voiced the Big Bad Wolf and is best known for voicing Peg Leg Pete.

Aside from the commercial success of Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, Frank Churchill wrote some of the most endearing music in the Disney catalog. Among those include Heigh-Ho, Whistle While You Work and Some Day My Prince Will Come from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He co-wrote the Academy Award®-winning score for Dumbo and was nominated with Ned Washington for Best Song from that film for Baby Mine. Churchill was also nominated posthumously for co-writing the score for Bambi as well as the song Love Is a Song from that film.

Finally, it is certainly worth noting that the Library of Congress added Three Little Pigs to the National Film Registry in 2007. According to the Library of Congress, “Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act of 1992, each year the Librarian of Congress, with advice from the National Film Preservation Board, names 25 films to the National Film Registry to be preserved for all time. The films are chosen because they are “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.”

Flowers and Trees

The Silly Symphony short Flowers and Trees began as a black and white production but was quickly scrapped when the decision was made to use a new Technicolor three-strip color process. Up until the release of Flowers and Trees all the Disney animated shorts had been black and white. Walt Disney, convinced of the potential of this new color process, negotiated a contract with Technicolor for the exclusive use of three-strip process in animation. This effectively prevented other animation studios from using the process until after September of 1935, giving Disney a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Flowers and Trees showcases nature in all its springtime glory coming to life, literally with anthropomorphic trees and flowers as the characters. The trees and flowers begin by waking up, yawning, and washing. Once refreshed, a male tree creates a harp-like instrument by stretching some vines down from a bent tree trunk and playing music. A female tree begins to dance slightly while another tree conducts a group of chirping birds on its arm-like limb and flowers dance about.

The music was composed by Bert Lewis and Frank Churchill and uses a number of familiar classical tunes. Musically the short starts out with a serene quality, which could be seen as harkening back to the same Midwestern roots Walt Disney had with his experiences in Marceline, Missouri. Many of the scores for the Silly Symphony shorts have a simpler, more languid, symphonic quality in comparison to the jazz based themes found in the Fleischer cartoons, a main competitor to Disney, being produced in New York at the time.

That symphonic pastoral score plays as the courtship begins between the young male and female tree characters with the guy giving a flower tiara to the girl. The music quickly changes as a villainous old tree grabs the girl and starts dragging her off. The introduction of conflict was something that was absent from some of the earlier seasonally themed shorts and adds tension to the storyline of this short.

The young male tree rescues her and does battle with the old villainous tree. Eventually, the young male tree forces the villain backwards where he trips over a rock. The villain falls on his back, arms folded and pretending to be dead. A flower walks onto his chest while the well-known Funeral March theme by Chopin plays. But the villainous tree is not dead. Getting up, he starts a fire as revenge against the young tree couple.

The final three to four minutes of Flowers and Trees are virtually a medley of well-known classical favorites. Aside from Chopin’s Funeral March, a menacing fire certainly warrants the frightful but stirring music of Schubert’s Die Erlkonig, and Rossini’s famous “Storm” sequence from his Overture to William Tell. The forest comes back to life to the appropriate accompaniment of The Dawn, also from the William Tell.

Eventually a group of birds punch holes into a cloud allowing rain to dowse the fire. Vultures circle the charred remains of the villain tree and the forest is renewed to a sense of order once again. The short ends with nuptials for the young couple and the ubiquitous Wedding March in C major by Felix Mendelssohn. This is one of Mendelssohn’s best-known pieces – one that he wrote for a suite of music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

all about the schumanns

Robert Schumann was a fascinating person. We think of him as a composer first, but he also was quite a talented writer, penning articles, poetry, and reviews. His father was an author and a publisher, and Robert grew up around literature. He was a voracious reader, and at the ago of thirteen, wrote short articles for one of his father’s publications. In his passion for both literary matters and music, Robert Schumann embodies the quintessence of the Romantic spirit.

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Schumann was devoted to his own self expression, but also wrote about and reviewed the music of other composers. In earlier publications and in the Neue Zeitcschrift für Musik, a music magazine founded by Robert Schumann and Friedrich Wieck (who would become his father-in-law), Robert wrote articles—more than three hundred in total—about up and coming composers, new compositions, and the state of affairs for music in the nineteenth century. In these writings, he introduced a secret society called the League of David (Davidsbündler), a group of artists whose main purpose was to slay the Philistines. In this context, the Philistines were the makers and consumers of music that was banal and pedestrian. Schumann’s society had members like Eusebius, Florestan, and Raro, three imaginary men who represented aspects of Schumann’s own personality. He used these characters to advocate for other artists, and to debate and discuss the music of the day. As a champion of new music, Schumann supported the work of Chopin, Brahms, Berlioz, and others.

He lived for literature, art, and music. And in keeping with his stature as the model of a “Romantic,” we must of course mention the epic love story of Robert and Clara Wieck. What could be more romantic than a tale of forbidden love? When Robert was 21 years old, he began studying piano with Friedrich Wieck. Wieck not only taught piano, but had a prodigy for a daughter. Clara’s skill at the piano was well-known from her very first public appearance.

Robert moved in with the Wieck family, and eventually fell in love with Clara, much to Mr. Wieck’s consternation. Schumann kept very detailed journals, so we know that Robert and Clara kissed for the first time on November 25, 1835 when Robert was 25 and Clara was 16. Friedrich did everything he could to discourage this relationship, taking Clara away on tours that lasted months at a time, and forbidding their correspondence. Schumann, prone to depression, suffered a great deal from their separation. The young lovers went so far as to take up a court case, asking for legal permission to marry without Friedrich’s consent. This caused a rift between Clara and her father, and in the long battle that followed, Schumann’s depression worsened. Eventually, however, their case prevailed, and the two were married.

The Schumanns had eight children, and endeavored to find balance in their lives. Robert needed time and quiet to compose, Clara needed a place to practice so she could continue playing concerts. They faced the same challenges of any working couple with a large family. Sometimes the difficulty was in trying to find someone to care for the children, and sometimes it was simply finding the time and space to create. Sometimes there was tension because of Clara’s more public success as a performer (Schumann gave up performing years earlier because of an issue with his right hand). They experienced the loss of one of their children at the age of one. And then there were Robert’s severe bouts of depression.

Next weekend, LACO presents Schumann’s Second Symphony. Composed in a time of mental turmoil, this work represents a triumph of creativity over adversity. In the 1840s, Robert suffered from both depression and auditory hallucinations. Tinnitus was probably the cause of the constant ringing in his ears. He also experienced acute anxiety and worried about being poisoned by metal objects. By the 1850s, Schumann began to hear voices, heavenly choirs in his head, and sometimes he had demonic visions that frightened him. In fear that he might harm the members of his family, Schumann attempted suicide in 1854. He was rescued, but asked to be put in an asylum, where he remained for the last two years of his life.

The love story doesn’t end with Robert Schumann’s death, however. Clara remained devoted to her husband’s work and his memory. Clara spent the rest of her career playing Robert’s music, popularizing it. She was also named the editor of Robert’s complete works for the publisher Breitkopf and Härtel. She outlived her husband by 40 years, but remained unmarried for all that time. Robert paid tribute to this love and devotion while he was alive, and you can hear one such tribute in the Second Symphony. In the final movement of the Symphony, there is a reference to the last song in Beethoven’s song cycle “An die ferne Geliebte.”

In addition to love notes from Robert Schumann to Clara, LACO’s upcoming concert also features Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major and the world premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s commission for Sound Investment, Evidence. It’s going to be a wonderful evening that celebrates the quintessential Romantic in Robert Schumann, the perfect Classicist in Mozart, and something entirely new that’s never before been heard by the public. Schumann would have approved heartily of the Sound Investment commission, because it encourages composers to write new music. No doubt composer Matthew Aucoin (who will appear also as guest conductor) would have found a great champion in Robert Schumann.

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every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man

This evening’s concert included a surprise special treat for me! My dancer daughter was unexpectedly home and attended with me. Plus, it was delightfully warm and the terrace off the bar was a heavenly spot to sit and have a glass of wine with her before the concert began. It was a delicious way to begin an evening of beautiful music and, it turns out, beautiful musicians, as well.

I’d like to take a moment to laud the concertmaster, Margaret Batjer (beautiful person number one). She has held this position since 1998, has soloed with numerous major orchestras (the first time being at the age of 15) and is the creator of LACO’s Westside Connections chamber music series. She is a constant, strong presence at every performance I have seen and deserves a shout out. So, I SEE YOU, MARGARET!!

Guest conductor, Matthew Halls, was charming, energetic and expressive. He seemed very intelligent and precise in his interpretations of Prokofiev and Haydn and I appreciated his illumination of their similarities and where they diverged. Beautiful person number two accounted for…

Mason Bates wrote his remarkable Cello Concerto for the evening’s cellist, Joshua Roman. The concerto focused primarily on the abilities of the instrument itself, rather than a sound storyline. While not precisely my “cup of tea”, I enjoyed the integration of styles and sounds, the meshing of lyricism and percussion in the supporting orchestra. Joshua Roman is a treat: prodigal, sassy and emotive (his facial expressions!). His bowing and plucking were a visual and auditory delight. Such a natty dresser too (beautiful person number three). Big smiles and applause all around for this presentation from the audience. And in return for our love, a sweet, sweet encore for us from the adorable Mr. Roman.

Prokofiev’s first symphony was composed in 1917 while he was on holiday as an exercise in composing away from the piano (cuz I’m that productive on vacay, aren’t you?). He declared his intention was to create an original piece of music in the classical style inspired by Haydn while remaining true to his more modern sensibilities. SUCCESS! Classical in structure and form, but bitingly modern in its tonality and rife with his own devilish wit, it reminds me of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, something fiercely new packaged in the familiar symphonic proportions of Haydn. A delight.

Finally, Haydn’s the “Clock” Symphony (the Andante, with its ticking accompaniment, gives the symphony this nickname). This is my favorite of his. I feel like it was written for the crowd as well as the connoisseur. It’s filled with wonderful touches and the finale is nonstop brilliance. It moves with ease from simplicity to high drama. And those wonderful firm three chords at the end always make me smile. And the clock keeps running.

impress everyone with these five fascinating prokofiev facts!

Do you have your tickets for this weekend’s Prokofiev Classical concert? (If not, buy them here!) In addition to Prokofiev’s first symphony, called “Classical,” the program also features Haydn’s Symphony no. 101 (“The Clock”) and the Los Angeles premiere of Mason Bates’ Cello Concerto. And all ticket holders are invited to stick around for an after party featuring free drinks and appetizers! Need some icebreakers as you mix and mingle with other music aficionados? Try out these little-known facts about titular composer Sergei Prokofiev, including the famous piece he wrote in only four days, and the hobby that could also have made him a household name.

1) Prokofiev’s may perhaps be best known for “Peter and the Wolf” – an educational children’s piece he wrote in only four days. He wrote “Peter and the Wolf” as a favor to the Moscow Children’s Musical Theater, and offered to accept however much payment they could afford in their budget. Now it’s renowned the world over, but “Peter and the Wolf” got a slow start. It premiered on May 2, 1936, and, as Prokofiev himself noted, “[attendance] was poor and failed to attract much attention.”

2) “Peter and the Wolf” has the distinction of being recorded dozens of times over the past 100 years, and the list of famous names that have served as narrator is long and illustrious. Just a few of the notable narrators include: Bill Clinton, Sophia Loren, Antonio Banderas, Sharon Stone, Dame Edna Everage, Alice Cooper, Sting, Ben Kingsley, Sir John Gielgud (twice!), Eleanor Roosevelt, Alec Guinness, Boris Karloff, Mia Farrow, Sean Connery, Rob Reiner, David Bowie, and Carol Channing.
3) We have farm machinery to thank for bringing Prokofiev to the US for the first time. It was 1917 when Chicago businessman Cyrus McCormick Jr. went to Russia on business and met the 26-year-old Prokofiev. McCormick had never heard of Prokofiev, but Prokofiev was very familiar with the McCormick name, which was synonymous with farm equipment, as Prokofiev’s father managed a large farm that owned several machines that the McCormicks manufactured. McCormick ultimately recommended Prokofiev to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and Prokofiev attended the American debuts of two of his works in December 1918, leading the orchestra during one piece, and playing piano during the other.

The audience loved it, giving Prokofiev an enormous ovation. The reviews suggested a major new (and strange) voice was being heard. One headline read: “Russian Genius Displays Weird Harmonies.” Another critic wrote: “The music was of such savagery, so brutally barbaric, that it seemed almost grotesque to see civilized men, in modern dress with modern instruments performing it. By the same token, it was big, sincere, true.”
4) Sergei Prokofiev was also a very accomplished chess player, and could’ve possibly played professionally. He is one of very few players that beat José Raúl Capablanca, who would go on to be world champion, in a 1914 game. Prokofiev also beat contemporary Maurice Ravel in a chess game, and you can relive their match, move by move, here.
5) Prokofiev’s death was overshadowed by a much more prominent Russian’s death. Prokofiev died, at the age of 61, on March 5, 1953 – the same day as Joseph Stalin. Hordes of mourning people filled Red Square for days, and since Prokofiev lived near the square, the crowds prevented his body from being moved for three days. A leading music periodical, in their next issue, briefly mentioned Prokofiev’s passing on page 116. The first 115 pages were dedicated to Stalin.

Lastly, while you’re driving to Alex Theatre or Royce Hall this weekend for the concert, ruminate on this Prokofiev quote on the role of the composer and the purpose of art:
“In my view, the composer, just as the poet, the sculptor or the painter, is in duty bound to serve Man, the people. He must beautify human life and defend it. He must be a citizen first and foremost, so that his art might consciously extol human life and lead man to a radiant future. Such is the immutable code of art as I see it.”

fusion and multitasking

First things first – let me just say thank you to the universe for the timing of this particular program. My husband was NOT happy to attend with me on Sunday. He had just flown in from a trip and has been battling a heaping dose of the grungy cold virus that’s going around. He loves me and knows I don’t like going by myself to events, so he came along, grumbling… until he heard the word “jazz”. The light returned to his eyes and he perked up even further upon hearing “improvisation, vibraphone and percussion”. Yay!

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Gernot Wolfgang’s (yes Wolfgang and also an Austrian) “Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds – The D.A.R.K. Knights” is a delicious salad of jazz and lively, lyrical classicism and was written specifically for David Shostac (flute), Allan Vogel (oboe), Richard Todd (horn) and Kenneth Munday (bassoon), who all together have about three hundred and fifty seven years of musical experience (I kid, but they are heavyweights). He wrote this piece to their specific abilities and the solos of Shostac and Todd included improvisation. We were also treated to percussive improvisation, wonderful “shivery” violins, the brass bending notes, and a level of attentive alertness to one another that I have not heretofore seen in this orchestra. Don’t misunderstand me, they are always cohesive and attentive musicians, but the format of this particular composition seemed to illicit a very noticeable uptick in each individual musician’s attention to the others. It was quite enjoyable and different, and as Bill Murray said in Groundhog Day, “different is good”. I’d love to hear more of this kind of music at LACO.

Clarinet Concerto in A Major. I did not know that Mozart wrote a concerto for the clarinet! Well, not exactly the clarinet, but a fusion of the clarinet and a basset horn called (surprise surprise) a basset clarinet, a custom deal that has a range down to low C, instead of stopping at E as standard clarinets do. Joshua Ranz, who looked a bit like the instrument he played, (long, tall, thin, dressed in black) was wonderfully charming in his on stage persona and made the most of the quick passage work and contrasting slow tempos. His solo was magnificent. I believe that Mozart shows the capabilities of an instrument in what he writes for it better than almost anyone. And the clarinet is a delight, the life of the party, as the program notes state.

For me, the particular appeal of Mozart’s Concerto in D Minor, is that it‘s only one of two written in a minor key, and the most overtly dark, dramatic and impassioned. Dramatic Mozart – wonderful! Still elegant and crisp, but somewhat stormy between the orchestra and piano, lovingly played by Maestro Kahane, the multitasker. Poor, poor Jeffrey. If only he were talented… conducting the orchestra, while playing the piano in one of Mozart’s most esteemed concertos (Beethoven kept it in his repertoire). It was so great to see him communicating with the orchestra in this layered way, creating a musical dialogue in which he not only directs the orchestra as a whole entity, but interacts with them, speaking essentially the same language, appropriating and embellishing their themes, enhancing both them and enriching the solo piano personality.
So, will you allow me a short rant? Thanks. It drives me bananas when audience members leap up after the last piece and bolt for the door so as to be first in line to get out of the parking garage. How much time do you really think you’re saving? It seems so dismissive of the orchestra. And you MISS things. On Sunday, if you bolted, you missed Jeff Kahane come back and play an encore (a diverting version of “America the Beautiful”). The scamperers who hadn’t made it completely out the door when he came back on found themselves hurrying back down the aisle and flinging themselves into the first available empty seats. It just seems wrong to me. I have never waited more than ten minutes in that parking lot after the show. Give the orchestra their due. Stay and clap for them, wait to hear the encore (it’s such a treat). They just gave their all to us for almost two hours, give them another 20 minutes of your time, please. End of rant.

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