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LACO in december

December 21, 2010

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra performed two programs in December – one on LACO’s Orchestral Series at the Alex Theatre and Royce Hall and the other kicking off 2010-11’s Baroque Conversations at Zipper Concert Hall.

Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times attended the Orchestral Series concert at the Alex featuring Michael Stern on the podium. Here is an excerpt from his review.

‘Born in 1959 and in his sixth season as music director of the Kansas City Symphony, Stern is little known in Los Angeles. As a student, he participated in Leonard Bernstein’s Los Angeles Philharmonic Institute in the early ’80s and more recently conducted the student Colburn Orchestra. For what it’s worth (quite a bit, in fact), he is Isaac Stern’s son. He gets around: He has had chief-conductor and principal and permanent guest-conductor gigs in Germany and France; he founded the IRIS Orchestra in Germantown, Tenn….Stern brings the young Zubin Mehta to mind. He has a dynamic stick technique that commands rather than coaxes. Attacks are sharp and aggressive. Rhythms are clean and propulsive. He knows his way to a climax.

Kellogg’s nine-minute Mozart mix for strings (the violins and violas played standing) is a rapturous — maybe a little too rapturous — stringing of tremulous high-string prettiness, sweet harmonies and gossamer textures like Christmas lights around Mozart’s transcendent “Ave Verum Corpus.” The ending was sentimental. This is music with a pretty face, and that should have been enough.

The concert moved backward in history. “Mozart’s Hymn” dates from 2006. Golijov’s “Last Round,” for two string quartets and bass, was written a decade earlier. There is a tango fight and more rapture but also more pathos and less refined sugar. Stern took a tough, tango-means-business-in-Buenos-Aires-back-alleys approach, and it was gripping.

Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, with LACO principal clarinetist Joshua Ranz as the edgy, exciting soloist, was also unusually hard-edged for a work tailored to Benny Goodman. A slow pastoral beginning, strings and harp backing maybe the mellowest clarinet melody since Mozart, leads to swing.
Perhaps Stern merely followed Ranz’s lead, turning the concerto into so sprightly a virtuoso vehicle (Goodman was more casual). But Stern’s father, after recording Copland’s equally restrained Violin Sonata with the composer as pianist, tried unsuccessfully to talk Copland into writing a livelier concerto for violin -– something maybe closer to Saturday’s approach to the Clarinet Concerto.
In the second half, Wolf’s short, insignificant serenade was prelude to Schumann’s long, too significant Cello Concerto with Andrew Shulman as soloist.’

Observer reporter Steven Lieberman attended the concert at Zipper Hall. ‘Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, who stepped in for the ill music director Jeffrey Kahane, opened the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s intimate Baroque Conversations series at acoustically-sound Zipper Concert Hall with Bach’s ‘‘Goldberg’‘ Variations.

In this special series, the performers introduce the music from the stage, share their insights and invite audience questions to conclude the evening. Performed without intermission, the 90-minute concerts begin at 7 pm, including the conversation between the musicians and the audience. Attendees are also treated to a delightful pre-concert reception.

The Goldberg Variations is the work that made Glenn Gould famous (and, to some extent, vice versa). Ms. McDermott gave a good, honorable account of the piece, though some punishingly fast tempos seemed to take a toll in focus and technique in the later variations. The slow numbers were especially lovely, and Ms. McDermott admirably maintained her composure in the most inward and searching variation, No. 25.
She admitted to us before her performance that she hadn’t played the Variations to a public audience in some time and that she mistakenly omitted a few of the variations while in rehearsal.

Mentioning this wasn’t necessary because she is a great piano technician and, obviously, a humble and modest one at that.
Nevertheless, I’m sure that Gould would be proud.’

We look forward to more great music with LACO in the new year. Happy Holidays!

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