February 27, 2012
I’ve now been to two LACO Discover concerts, and I’m going to make it official: They’re now the event I most look forward to in the LACO season. This is what classical music is all about: beautiful music, performed by extraordinary artists, with the added benefit of a fascinating introduction that provides context and insight into the evening’s program. During Discover Bach’s Magnificat, on Saturday night at the ridiculously beautiful Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, Bach’s renowned piece for choir, orchestra, and soloists was dissected, then performed, and the experience was like none other. If orchestral music is a scoop of ice cream, than Discover Bach’s Magnificat was a whole freakin’ banana split!
LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane introduced the Magnificat during the first half of the evening. He explained how Bach turned 8 sentences from the Gospel of Luke into a 30-minute masterpiece. The most intriguing parts included how Bach cleverly divided and arranged the text in order to highlight certain words and phrases. I don’t know a lick of Latin, but Kahane skillfully broke it down, explaining nuances in conjugation and sentence structure, discussing subtleties in translation, and, most importantly, the complexities of what it all meant.
It wasn’t just Kahane up there by himself, though – all the musicians and singers were gathered behind him, and he called on them time and time again to illustrate his points: key melodies and measures were played, so we knew what to listen for, and elaborate passages were broken down, given us the opportunity to hear just what the strings were playing, versus what the flutes were playing, and so on.
Then there were the singers! This was the first LACO concert I’ve been to that’s featured a choir, and there were a few dozen singers – the USC Thornton Chamber Singers, to be specific – plus 5 soloists, and Kahane called on them, too, to highlight important passages. They were incredible. It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of hearing a choir, and their precision and purity was breathtaking.
What I appreciated most about the introduction was that it was so unmistakably evident that Bach’s Magnificat holds a very special place in Kahane’s heart. It seemed, at times, that his passion might explode through his ears, and his enthusiasm was contagious. After the intermission, Kahane conducted a full performance of the Magnificat, and thanks to Kahane’s passion (and his unending well of knowledge), I felt connected to the piece in a way I usually don’t feel at orchestral concerts.
I suspect that’s exactly the point of LACO’s Discover concerts, and I can only hope that LACO will continue to program additional Discover events in the future, because connecting average-Joe audience members like myself to a piece of music written nearly 300 years ago is an astonishing feat, and that journey of connection is one that I want to take again and again and again.