Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

LACO newbie

the emperor's new groove

April 18, 2011

Last night, the crowd at Royce Hall erupted with an enthusiastic outpouring of applause unlike anything I’ve witnessed in a long time. As a part of that crowd, I too eagerly clapped, and rose to my feet, because what I had just seen and heard was absolutely phenomenal. It was Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto, commonly known as the “Emperor” Concerto, with guest pianist Jon Kimura Parker, and I want everyone that wasn’t there to know that you really missed out. Seriously. Why aren’t you coming to LACO concerts?

Jon Kimura Parker commanded my attention from the second he sat down and wiped the keys with his red handkerchief to the very last note he played. I was lucky to have a seat on the left side of the hall, so I could see his hands levitating over the keyboards, furiously moving back and forth, over and under each other. Even his posture was compelling – during the parts when he wasn’t playing, he sat, slightly hunched, head slightly down, with his hands on his knees, like an runner catching his breath after a race, and I can imagine why: he must be exhausted. There were so many notes to play, and he had to play them so quickly, and for so long – it’s a 40-minute concerto! Then, when it came time for him to join in again, I’d watch him slowly raise his hands to the keys, and then spring back to life, rocking back and forth, hovering over the keys, playing each and every note with the precise force (or gentleness) that was required. I couldn’t keep my eyes off him.

The thunderous applause lead to not one, but two encores: first, Parker played the finale from Beethoven’s “Appassionata”, and then Parker asked conductor Jeffrey Kahane to come out, and the two of them played a rollicking version of the Gershwin standard “I Got Rhythm” that seemed to get increasingly complex and fast with each verse – with all four hands on one piano. I was exhausted just watching – I can imagine Parker, after leaving the hall, just wanting to collapse on the bed at his hotel!

Earlier in the evening, LACO performed a Dvorak Serenade, which the program notes described as “achingly lovely” – and that description was right on the nose. I felt like, over the course of the 5 movements, I was listening to the soundtrack of a great romance, like a love story was unfolding before me.

The concert started with a performance of John Harbison’s “The Most Often Used Chords,” which LACO commissioned and premiered in 1993, and while parts of it were a little strange, I really enjoyed a couple of the movements. My mother, who was my date for the evening (and played the clarinet as a girl), especially appreciated how the piece wove all the different instruments together, so they alternated playing the various themes and melodies. The piece was promoted as having some whimsy and wit, as the whole piece is literally built around the most commonly used chords, but all that was over my head, because I don’t think I’d recognize the most commonly used chords if they walked up to me and punched me in the face. My lack of classical music knowledge hasn’t prevented me from enjoying LACO concerts in the past, and it sure didn’t prevent me from enjoying the concert last night, either!

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