Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



the untrained ear

a heroic evening with LACO

October 17, 2011

The drive home from Royce Hall after LACO’s Illumination concert was a lovely one. My drive takes me through the Hollywood Hills along Beverly Glen, a twisting street that climbs through canyons and along ridges until it comes to a curve near the top and, all of a sudden, as you drive around that curve, the twinkling lights of the San Fernando Valley appear, spread out beneath you, stretching into the distance. It occurred to me this evening, as a rounded that curve, that I’m one lucky guy to have such a beautiful drive just a few miles from my home, and then it dawned on me how lucky I was to have experienced this evening as a whole. A pretty drive is one thing, but the performance I was driving home from… well, leave it to LACO to craft and execute an evening an marvelous as Illumination.

First up was Dvorak’s Nocturne in B Major, a slow and stately piece of music for strings that somehow sounded both simple and grand. There was a majesty to the music that I loved, with sweeping sounds and a slow build that sucked me in. The piece seemed easy for me to connect to, and, halfway through, I figured out why: it had a heartbeat. Literally. The double bass provided a heartbeat-like element, and it brought the piece to life.

After the Nocturne, Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin joined the LACO musicians onstage for a bunch of Benjamin Britten pieces that were Rimbaud and Tennyson poems set to music. Gauvin has an undeniable presence, and her voice, which was powerful and stunning, commanded my attention. I was hoping to really enjoy hearing a vocalist on the LACO stage, since it’s something that doesn’t happen very often, but I couldn’t really get into these pieces. One reason might be because I’m not a big fan of poetry, and I know nothing about either Rimbaud or Tennyson or their work. I didn’t realize that the poems (and their translations) were included in the program notes until just before the final song – that probably would have been helpful, too. Despite Gauvin’s enchanting voice, this was my least favorite part of the program.

Generally speaking, there have been a few LACO concerts in the past where I’ve started tuning out midway through the second half, due to music overload or restlessness or general tiredness, but tonight’s concert was not one of the them. After the intermission, LACO performed Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, called “Eroica” (Italian for “heroic”), and it kept me at the edge of my seat. It had everything I love about orchestral music: it was intense, it had complex and intricate passages (that LACO’s musicians handled easily), and it escalated into a feverish, climactic ending that made me hope there was Gatorade offstage so the musicians could rehydrate. A lot was said, both in the program and by conductor Jeffrey Kahane before the piece began, about how monumental and important this Symphony is, historically speaking, but none of that meant a lot to this untrained ear, who doesn’t know the periods of classical music from a hole in the ground. What I liked was that this piece was overflowing with passion – I could tell Beethoven was pouring himself into this work, and I could tell the musicians onstage for giving it their all. And there I was, in the room while all of it unfolded… what a lucky guy I was.

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