Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

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happy birthday, bach!

March 20, 2011

Last night, LACO honored one of the most beloved and iconic composers in all of music. Yep, Johann Sebastian Bach’s birthday is this weekend, and I was there, in the audience, as LACO paid tribute to a man who would be 326 years old this year. If I may be perfectly frank, I wasn’t looking forward to this concert as much as I’ve looked forward to other LACO performances. Baroque music is just not my thing, and, actually, my least favorite LACO concert of the past few years was Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in November 2008 – you can read my blog about it here. So, the thought of another evening of all Bach pieces didn’t exactly rev my engine, but you know what? I’m glad I game. And I can sum up why in exactly two words: Sasha Cooke.

Ms. Cooke is a mezzo-soprano who made her Los Angeles debut with LACO last night, and holy cow, can that lady sing! I had read a little about her before heading out to the Alex Theatre, so I knew I was in for a treat, but I was completely mesmerized. She joined the Orchestra for Bach’s Cantata No. 170, and after intermission, a piece from St. Matthew Passion, and her voice was sublime. Stunning. Seriously, why weren’t you there to experience it yourself? Ms. Cooke is currently pregnant, and while I’m no doctor, nor a parent myself, she looks to be well in to her third trimester, and I’ll admit I was wondering if the added weight affects her breathing, or her performance in some other way, or if she was dying to use the restroom the entire time she was onstage. This may have been the first Bach Cantata I’ve ever heard, and I’m certain I’ll probably never hear one as lovely again, thanks to Ms. Cooke and the LACO musicians. Oh, and I’ll bet that baby will cry in perfect pitch after it’s born.

The other thing that captivated me during the performance was musical director Jeffrey Kahane, who conducted the first piece of the evening, Bach’s Keyboard Concerto No. 6 in F major, from the piano. I’ve been to a bunch of LACO concerts that Mr. Kahane has conducted, and he’s an active and energetic conductor (as he was when he conducted the rousing finale of last night’s concert, Bach’s Suite No. 3), so I was baffled as to how he could lead the rest of the Orchestra while playing this Concerto that involved, basically, non-stop intricate piano playing. His fingers never the keyboard, and I’m convinced they never stopped moving. I can’t comprehend the mastery involved to be able to provide enough attention to hit all those notes while keeping the rest of the group together. Which brings me to a suggestion:

No matter how you position a piano onstage, there’s going to be a lot of people who can’t see the pianist’s fingers dancing up and down the keys. Because Mr. Kahane’s back was to the audience during the Concerto, so he could face his musicians, no one was privileged to seeing his finger race along, back and forth. So why not hang an angled mirror above the stage to provide that angle for the audience? You could hang a huge mirror, and show most, if not all, of the Orchestra – I know I’d enjoy that. Maybe, though, it would mess with the acoustics? Think about it, LACO, that’s all I’m asking.

Lastly, I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Reed last night. Mary is an incredibly talented and lovely graduate student at USC, studying the double bass, and she won a contest last fall that featured a prize of performing with LACO for a week, so Mary will be joining the LACO Orchestra for next month’s Beethoven’s Emperor concert. Mary was so kind as to let me ask her a few questions, so my next blog post will be that interview. Keep your eye out for that!

1 comment

Hey David!
Great post. I just wanted to comment on singing while pregnant. I am an opera singer myself, and although I have never sung in that condition, I have heard others talk about it. My voice teacher told me once that she began to truly understand breath support when she was pregnant. I think all that pressure forces you to rely less on your diaphragm, and more on your intercostal muscles. These are the muscles on the sides of your rib cage which allow your ribs to expand creating more space in your lungs. Also, I think the pressure on your diaphragm actually helps. I know that after I eat a large meal, singing is actually easier because I have something to push against. I'm sorry if that was tmi, but I think it's interesting! I don't doubt that singing while pregnant is challenging for many reasons (the aforementioned bathroom issue, the exhaustion, asthma? to name a few), but Ms. Cooke did an amazing job at making it all seem effortless. Brava!

  • —Amalia, March 22, 2011 02:50 pm

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