Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



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a concert a day keeps the doctor away

May 26, 2011

a concert a day keeps the doctor away

The Housatonic river, Stockbridge, MA (wikipedia)

Good news, music lovers! A study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health — definitely my favorite epidemiological periodical — reports that “the more often people engaged in cultural activities the greater their health benefits.” (Keep in mind that this study was done on Norwegian people, and Scandinavian countries have an amazing commitment to the arts, funded by the government—Finland alone has over 30 professional orchestras, and approximately 20% of the population attend orchestra concerts regularly!)

Participants in the study were asked about their general well-being and “their involvement in two cultural fields: ‘creative culture’ when the person does something such as play an instrument, paint or sing, and ‘receptive culture’ including going to galleries and concerts.” The study overwhelmingly found that “participation in receptive and creative cultural activities was significantly associated with good health, good satisfaction with life, low anxiety and depression scores in both genders. Especially in men, attending receptive, rather than creative, cultural activities was more strongly associated with all health-related outcomes. “

So when you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go downtown to a concert. And you’ll feel better! I’ll take Prokofiev over Prozac any day. If you’re wanting to improve your outlook on life, LACO has some very attractive and painless treatment plans coming up during the 2011-12 season. Here are some that I’m particularly excited about. Keep in mind I’m a modern music kind-of guy, so while I love the “Eroica,” I’m not going to write about it here. Sorry. We all know “Eroica” is impossible to beat. Moving on….

Derek Bermel: Ritornello for electric guitar and orchestra
I know what you’re thinking: “really? Electric guitar with orchestra?” Yes! The electric guitar is a surprisingly versatile instrument, one that has a wide range of sound and tone, and can go from loud and aggressive to soft and bell-like in an instant. John Harbison’s Symphony No. 5 has an electric guitar soloist (which represents Orpheus’ lute), and Steven Mackey has an impressive output of chamber and orchestral music that includes electric guitar. I heard him play with Jennifer Koh at the LA Phil this week, and was blown away about the range of possibilities the electric guitar has, especially when placed in a classical setting. And you can’t go wrong with LACO composer-in-residence Derek Bermel, so this piece promises to be really exciting. (I was going to write “promises to be electric!” but even I wouldn’t stoop that low for a pun.)

Britten: Les illuminations
I think Britten is often overlooked and not given his proper due as a composer. But listen to the “Dirge” from Serenade, Op. 31. Or the “Malo” aria from The Turn of the Screw. Or the witch-hunt scene in Peter Grimes where the chorus screams “GRIMES!” and is followed by deafening silence. Listen to those moments, and you’ll be as excited to hear this piece live as I am. Team Britten!

Timothy Andres: Sound Investment commission
Andres is a young composer with an amazing compositional voice. He writes mature, confident pieces full of wonderful details and, most importantly, a strong sense of form, structure and direction. His pieces say something and go somewhere. The overused trope of a piece that takes you on a musical journey is actually very applicable here — his music moves and adapts and changes and carries you along. And, just to make you jealous, he’s also a great visual designer. Check out his website here to listen to his music and view his design galleries. I’m really excited to see what he comes up with for Sound Investment.

Ives: Three Places in New England
Gabriel Kahane: New Work
These pieces are a great juxtaposition of east & west coast, classical & pop, and old & new. The Ives work is brilliant; full of sounds and colors and surprises, it deserves to be heard as much as The Unanswered Question. And Kahane’s new work is part two of a travelogue based on his grandmother’s journals from when she escaped Nazi Germany and settled in Los Angeles. These are both personal works about location, sense of belonging, and individual identity. I also really like the Ives because the last movement is “The Housatonic at Stockbridge,” which describes the Housatonic river in western Massachusetts and has personal meaning for both Ives and me. Ives spent his honeymoon there, and I once stayed at a Motel 6 a stones-throw from the river in the town of Stockbridge. I like to think that my time there, watching free HBO and using tiny bars of soap, really helps me to understand the poly-rhythmic complexity of the work.

There are many more things to be excited about this season — Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin paired with some Adès, a new Golijov! — so hopefully you’ll join us. And remember, it’ll improve your health!

On a personal note, after two years working for the Orchestra, I’ll be leaving at the end of this month to pursue composing on a more full-time basis. And dear reader, I think I’m going to miss you most of all. I’ve loved running my written mouth off about musical topics big and small, and hope you’ve enjoyed reading my fevered musings.

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