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ritornello is the real thing

September 27, 2011

September 24 & 25 marked the opening of LACO’s season and the opening concert of Jeffrey Kahane’s 15th – or “crystal” – anniversary as music director. It was a wonderful weekend full of energy, excitement and electricity!

Mark Swed, of the Los Angeles Times reviewed the concert beautifully. Here is a taste of the review:

Once the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was on stage at UCLA’s Royce Hall Sunday night, longtime principal oboist Allan Vogel came forth to pay tribute to Jeffrey Kahane. The concert marked the start of Kahane’s 15th season as music director, and Vogel called this LACO’s golden age. He has some authority in that regard, having joined the ensemble as a young second oboe 39 years ago. Still, the proof was in the playing.

Kahane ended the program doing something he does supremely well, which is conduct Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto from the keyboard. There was a gripping theater to be experienced in the back-and-forth tug between a rhythmically incisive orchestra and Kahane’s molten, eloquent, urgent piano playing. The symphonic picture was large, while the drama was personal.

That’s one side of Kahane. There are others. Like the fact that he played guitar in a rock band as a kid growing up in L.A. in the ‘60s. And on the first half of the program, Kahane conducted the West Coast premiere of Derek Bermel’s Ritornello, which the composer describes as a “concerto grosso” for electric guitar and orchestra. This — along with the West Coast premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s short “Sidereus” — was the news of the night.

...electric guitar concertos have, for the most part, remained self-conscious novelty works; that is certainly true of the nostalgic and trite “Gee’s Bend.” Ritornello, written for Wiek Hijmans, is different. The Dutch guitarist is certainly capable of conveying his instrument’s ecstatic wail and earthy distorted grunge. But he also produces an exceedingly beautiful tone on the same model guitar, he mentioned in a preconcert talk, George Harrison played on “Beatles for Sale.”

Bermel, who has been LACO’s most successful composer-in-residence (more evidence of a golden age), has an alluringly easy way with mixing genres. What is surprising here, however, is how readily King Crimson and the French Baroque can appear kissing cousins.

The ritornello, or repeated section, of the concerto is guitar bopping in broken triplets, the meter constantly changing, a homage perhaps to Fred Frith. But it also hints at Bermel’s recent Brazilian infatuation. A largo, with the dotted rhythms of Lully, breaks the sway and sets Hijmans off in the direction of heavy metal and a spellbindingly Clapton-esque improvised cadenza.

Read the full review at latimes.com.

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