defining an architect’s approach

It is an honor to present with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. The themes of “water” and “arches” and the music of Brahms for the Westside Connections program resonate with inspirations and themes to our work. The Annenberg Community Beach House, the Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands as well as much of our residential and academic work highlight ephemeral qualities of reflectivity and transparency. I grew up by Lake Erie, and the adjacency to the ocean felt familiar when I moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA’s Graduate School in Architecture. One of my classmates was Leonard Koren who created “Wet”, a Venice-based cultural magazine that brought together art, design, architecture, photography, food, film under the umbrella of “gourmet bathing”. This reflected a modern day version of Japanese “floating world” culture. The integration of themes that are distinct, dynamic, and communal is also evident in our work. With a background in art history and immersion in the local art scheme of artists such as Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Peter Alexander, Elyn Zimmerman and others, my work maintains an attachment to the experiences of sublimity, ephemerality, and ethereality.

read more →Arches has a more explicit architectural reference that I imagine translates into contemporary design as rhythm, solid and void, and framing. While we don’t use actual arches, we compose the structure of a building’s columns and walls to create a rhythmic framework. Our design for the Annenberg Community Beach House on Santa Monica Beach combines the ethereal reflections on Julia Morgans’ swimming pool with the new rhythmic colonnade that memorializes the site’s long demolished Marion Davies mansion. Composing views from within a building simultaneous to composing the exterior facades is one of the character defining aspects of an architect’s approach. Framing is a visual device long used to edit and intensify views. We learned from the way James Turrell, with whom we have collaborated, frames a piece of the sky to turn an ephemeral natural phenomenon into an art experience. With each project, we look to create a tailored experience that is responsive to the programmatic needs of the project, and unique to our clients. ↑ less ↑

finding inspiration

Mendelssohn took a trip to Scotland and wrote the opening measures to the Hebrides Overture. In the second movement of his Fifth Piano Concerto, Camille Saint-Saëns borrowed an Egyptian melody he heard while sailing on the Nile. After the death of his friend, Viktor Hartmann, Modest Mussorgsky penned Pictures at an Exhibition, a piano piece inspired by Hartmann’s visual art. Music history is filled with the stories of compositions that arose from varied sources of inspiration. Olivier Messiaen and Ottorino Respighi drew upon the songs of the birds. Maurice Ravel dedicated each movement of Le Tombeau de Couperin to a friend or friends he had lost in World War I. In my years as a program annotator, I’ve done a lot of research, and in addition to figuring out when a piece was written and what was going on in a composer’s life at the time, I like to see if there is an underlying inspiration for a work of music. Some of the things I’ve uncovered over the years have been truly surprising, and I am constantly fascinated by these stories.

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Some sources of inspiration are timeless. Of course it makes sense that the weather would inspire more composers than just Vivaldi. Weather is a constant presence in our lives (although my east coast friends would probably argue that sunny and 70 degrees is barely “weather”). From Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (1723) to Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons (1801) to the thunderstorm in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (1808) to Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (1964-1970) to the Santa Ana winds in Gernot Wolfgang’s Desert Winds, the quirks of the seasons are fertile ground for musical exploration. There have also been the works that took visual art as a point of departure. In 1927, Ottorino Respighi was planning to dedicate a new work to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, a notable patron of the arts who sponsored the composer’s American tour. On a visit to the Uffizi Gallery after the tour, Respighi came upon three paintings by Botticelli, La Primavera (Spring), L’Adorazione dei Magi (Adoration of the Magi), and La nascita di Venere (The Birth of Venus). He composed the Trittico Botticelliano, or Botticelli Triptych based on these paintings. Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff composed a symphonic poem in 1909 called The Island of the Dead after seeing a black and white print of Arnold Böcklin’s 1880 painting The Isle of the Dead.

But now that we’re in the twenty-first century, it’s interesting to think of the kinds of things that might be inspiring composers now and in the future. Might there be an orchestral piece based on an “app?” Or a symphony based on a ringtone (and not the other way around)? Of course, people will always inspire music; that will hardly change with time. But what other kinds of things will excite the creative mind? LACO’s composer-in-residence, Andrew Norman, has shown that his creative mind is open to many possibilities. A couple of seasons ago, LACO played Norman’s The Great Swiftness, a work inspired by Alexander Calder’s public sculpture La Grande Vitesse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This weekend, LACO will present Andrew Norman’s fascinating work, Gran Turismo (2004). The musical ideas in this piece took shape and direction from two main places: the influence of Futurist art, especially that of Giacomo Balla, and a video game called Gran Turismo.

Gran Turismo the game debuted in 1997 for the Playstation gaming system. Over time, it has evolved with the technology, with Gran Turismo 6 coming out in 2013. Norman composed his piece in 2004 or before, so he had access to the versions up to Gran Turismo 3. Isn’t it interesting to think that music historians in the future—perhaps someone writing the definitive biography of composer Andrew Norman—might attempt to play this game to gain insight into the composer’s thought process?

In addition to Norman’s Gran Turismo, LACO will also present three other pieces with interesting backstories. We don’t know exactly why Haydn gave his 64th Symphony the nickname “Times Change,” but I bet it was a good reason. Mozart received a commission from a flute soloist to write his First Flute Concerto, which will feature LACO’s own David Shostac. Prokofiev likewise received a commission to write his Second Violin Concerto. LACO welcomes Joseph Swensen as the soloist for this beautiful work.

It makes me very happy to see that composers writing music today are embracing the things that make them think and feel, and the things that inspire them to create. A few years ago, I wrote a program note for a piece of music by John Harbison that was inspired by the printed chords inside a music notebook he bought in Italy. Some of the most wonderful pieces come from the seemingly simplest things. Music continues to endure, and composers continue to find creative genius in things we non-composers take for granted. It doesn’t matter if that inspirational thing is as ephemeral as the song of a bird, or as new as a video game.

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David Shostac looks back at his first 40 years

It’s a whole different world than it was in 1975. Los Angeles County has grown by 3 million people, there’s been seven Presidents, and we’ve flocked to the multiplex to see 15 different James Bond films (not including the 10 that were released before 1975). One constant in this sea of change, though, is David Shostac. David was named LACO’s principal flute in 1975, and he’s held that position ever since. David is celebrating his 40th anniversary with LACO this year, and will be a featured soloist at the Mozart & Prokofiev concert on March 14 & 15 (get your tickets here). We asked David to take a little trip down memory lane, and, in this interview, he shares how he came to join LACO, recalls some favorite memories, and reveals the advice he gives to the next generation of concert musicians.

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LACO: When did you start playing the flute, and why did you pick that particular instrument? Shostac: In 2nd grade, the music teacher announced that there were two trombones available. I asked my parents (both musicians) if I could have one of them, and somehow I ended up with a flute. So I started playing the flute at 8 years old.

Do you have a favorite piece to play? I have lots of favorite pieces, including the Mozart Flute Concerto [that’s on the program for this weekend’s concerts].

Do you have a favorite venue to perform in? Why? Royce Hall and Ambassador Auditorium have lush sounds, and the Alex Theater has lots of clarity. Both have their advantages, but performers tend to prefer live acoustics. However, dry and clear is preferable to overly live sound which gets muddy and mushy.

You’ve been with LACO for 40 years. How did you end up joining LACO? What do you remember from your initial audition? I owe that to Paul Shure, LACO concertmaster at the time, for setting up an audition with Neville Mariner at a private home. I was extremely happy to be given the position, having decided upon hearing the orchestra that I belonged there.

How have you witnessed LACO, as an organization, grow or evolve since your early days with the orchestra? With each director and management, the orchestra has evolved in its own way. The level has always been extremely high, but I’d say that it has become much more than an outlet for outstanding studio musicians. It still is that, but from both an artistic and a financial viewpoint, it has reached new heights.

Do you have any favorite memories from LACO concerts or events? Too many to count! Our European tour was certainly a highlight, and an opportunity for bonding among both musicians and staff while away from everyday life in L.A.

How about any embarrassing or water-cooler moments? My worst moment was on an East Coast tour, when I didn’t hear the announcement about a change in the bus schedule heading to a concert. I was in the lobby of the hotel in New York, thinking I was extra early because nobody else was around. They were all on the bus, waiting for me! Or the time I forgot my music and realized it on the bus halfway to Pomona. That’s another story…

Has the LACO audience changed during the past few decades? We are playing more new music, and I think our audience has come a long way in accepting and enjoying that aspect of programming.  New commissions, Meet the Music, and a greater scope in both education and contacts with the musical world at large have contributed to a heightened awareness in general (not to mention new challenges to the orchestra and its director).

As one of the most-established musicians on the LACO stage, what advice would you give musicians just starting out with LACO? I think we all know that one must be on one’s toes and well-prepared to step on stage with this orchestra, but the rewards are beyond description as long as those needs are met.

You’re a faculty member at CSUN and have taught at many other schools, including USC and UCLA. What advice do you give your students and aspiring musicians?
I have always felt that my job is to bring out the best in each student, and it is up to each individual to discover what kind of life in music to aspire to. I try to forward information to my students about opportunities which may come their way. 

You’ve performed on the soundtracks of hundreds of movies. Which stand out as your favorite scores? Which stand out as your favorite movies?  Hard to say! Historically speaking, Somewhere in Time, The Little Mermaid, Avatar; and the soon-to-be-released Tomorrowland, with score by Michael Giacchino. Working with composers like John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, John Barry, Andre Desplat, Giacchino, and others has been a great experience.

What’s on your bucket list? I’m always trying to push the boundaries, reach out to audiences and fellow musicians, and spread the flow of music everywhere.

What’s one thing about you that no one would know by looking at you or attending a LACO concert? I spend lots of time with my wife Alexes (married 45 years), son Galen, and granddaughter Sierra, as well as being the Pied Piper of our neighborhood, because of the doggie treats I always have for our two guys (Snookie and Frankie) and all their canine friends. I also have arranged a lot of music for chamber music groups and also flute orchestras (Song of the Angels, Ensemble 10, etc.), with which I perform frequently as soloist. I’m also an improviser, and play as much jazz and Latin jazz music as possible. I like to jog with the dogs as well!

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discovering mozart AKA “Oh you Arch-Donkey”

Thursday’s LACO Discover performance at Ambassador auditorium in Pasadena was unlike any other I’ve been to. When I arrived I plopped down in my seat and mentally prepared myself to hear some combination of a 20-30 minute classical composition paired with a bizarre/jangly modern piece before intermission. As usual the orchestra all came out but then the lights suddenly went dim, almost like a guest rock band was going to come out. There was a scuffle of movement in the dark. A spot light finally lit up a small part of the stage revealing two men in black shirts and pants sitting at an ornate wooden table with silver goblets in front of them. They began to perform a skit! One of the men played Mozart and the other was Mozart’s composer “friend” Salieri. As Mozart explained the unusual origin of his Requiem to Salieri, I couldn’t believe this was really happening. Salieri then secretly “poisons” Mozart’s goblet and the orchestra and a full choir began to play a Mozart composition as the “poison” takes effect. Salieri leaves the “dying” Mozart on the wooden table as the orchestra and choir really get going. As a huge fan of unexpected theatrics I was overjoyed and couldn’t believe how long this was going on for. The Mozart actor stayed “dead” on the table for awhile but sadly the music ended and the lights came back on. Conductor Jeffery Kahane appeared and explained that the skit was actually part of a play by Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. JK went on and began a fascinating lecture that explained some of the history, tragedy and plain wackiness associated with Mozart’s Requiem. Among my favorite facts: Mozart wrote the majority of the Requiem in just 5 weeks! It was unfinished but brilliant. Kind of reminds me of procrastinating in college…except in this case Mozart died and I passed my classes with flying colors. #humblebrag

  • After parts of Mozart’s Requiem were called into question Beethoven responded by calling Mozart out with this quote: “Oh you Arch-Donkey!”
  • One movement in Requiem is called “Tuba Mirum” (which is actually kind of funny, more on this later) BUT at the time of the writing the tuba, the hilarious instrument we all know and love today, did not exist and tuba meant trumpet at the time.
  • Mozart only used the trombone, another (arguably) hilarious instrument, during parts he considered sacred and holy.
  • Finally, here’s a wonderful quote JK shared. It’s Mozart from a letter to his father about his feelings on death: “I never lie down at night without thinking that (young as I am) I may be no more before the next morning dawns. And yet not one of all those who know me can say that I ever was morose or melancholy in my intercourse with them. I daily thank my Creator for such a happy frame of mind, and wish from my heart that every one of my fellow-creatures may enjoy the same.”

After an intermission, the actual performance of Mozart’s Requiem began. As I mentioned early, there were an impressive array of performers along with JK and the Orchestra. There was also a huge choir and four solo vocalists. My favorite soloist was probably Aubrey Allicock because of his performance on a movement I mentioned earlier “Tuba Mirum”. The beginning of the movement has Allicock in a super deep voice singing: “Tubaaaaaaaaaaa”. It sounded like a deep ballad to the (arguably) silly looking musical instrument, which made me happy. The actual translation of that part according to the program notes are “The trumpet scattering its wondrous sound throughout the sepulchral regions”. As I mentioned early, Mozart found the trombone to be sacred so perhaps he also really loves trumpets. Or maybe he was terrified of them because it seems like most of this piece is a reference to Judgment day? Yikes.

As a whole Mozart’s Requiem is one my favorite pieces of music that LACO has played in the almost 3 seasons I’ve seen. It was cool to have the evening just focused on the one piece of music. And the sound of Requiem is so epic and captivating. This is in large part thanks to the vast array of vocals from the soloists and choir. It almost feels like the darkest Christmas carol ever which I mean as a high compliment.

mozart’s final masterpiece

The Discover Concerts are always such a joy for a person like me. I’m the kind of person who enjoys something even more when I know the intricate details about it. I’m anticipating this particular Discover Concert because I know there are lots of details to cover. On Thursday, LACO will be performing Mozart’s Requiem. Since it’s a choral piece, LACO will be joining forces with the Los Angeles Master Chorale (and their artistic director, Grant Gershon). The piece will feature the magnificent solo voices of Alison King (soprano), Emily Fons (alto), Nicholas Phan (tenor), and Aubrey Allicock (bass). But that’s not all; two other guests, actors John Sloan and JD Cullum will have very important roles to play. They will be the embodiment of our composer, Mozart, and his imagined antagonist, Antonio Salieri. I don’t know exactly how the evening will be structured, but the possibilities are very exciting!

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Mozart’s death in December of 1791 cut short a very productive life. Just shy of his 36th birthday, Mozart had written somewhere around 600 works including 41 symphonies, 27 piano concertos and nearly two-dozen string quartets. The composer’s last years were, at times, extremely productive. In the summer of 1788, he completed his three final symphonies in less than two months. He wrote operas including Così fan tutte and The Magic Flute. And in his last year, Mozart received an anonymous commission for a Requiem mass. This final piece, however, was left incomplete at his death.

The Requiem was commissioned anonymously by a man named Count Franz Walsegg, who wished to commemorate his wife’s death. The whole affair was shrouded in mystery. Walsegg sent a mysterious emissary to make a deal with Mozart: the anonymous benefactor would pay half of his generous fee up front, and pay Mozart the other half when the work was completed. We think that Walsegg used the emissary probably because he wanted to pass the work off as one of his own. He was something of an amateur composer and a piece like this would have made him look very talented, indeed! Mozart was devoted to the completion of the work, and desperate for the second payment (the Mozarts were chronically in financial straits), but his health did not cooperate. He suffered with an illness in September, but continued to work. In late November, he became too sick to continue. After ailing for two weeks, Mozart died on December 5th.

Mozart had completed the opening movement of the work, the Requiem aeternam. He had written out the vocal parts of the Kyrie, but left just sketches for the orchestral parts. The Sequence and Offertory were in a similar condition, although he composed the Sequence only as far as the eighth measure of the Lacrimosa. The rest of the movements—Sanctus, Benedictus, Hosanna, Agnus Dei—were not composed. This left Mozart’s wife, Constanze, in a bit of a bind. Without Walsegg’s second payment, Constanze struggled to support herself and her children. Turning to different composers to complete the unfinished work, Constanze found only one man who would agree to the subterfuge of passing it off as Mozart’s work. Franz Xaver Süssmayr, Mozart’s long-time assistant, completed the work in 1792.

Süssmayr did an admirable job, especially for his skill level, but some critics have mentioned its problems, among them, lackluster musical ideas and errors in harmony. But over the years, listeners have become used to it, accepting it as Mozart’s final masterpiece. Mozart’s incomplete score seems to have provided more than enough raw material for Süssmayr to put together something worthwhile, but there were still some nagging doubts. Could it have been done differently, maybe even better? What if we had just a little bit more information? These thoughts lingered for more than a hundred and seventy years. But then there was a break in the case.

In the 1960s, a sketch for an Amen fugue was discovered among Mozart’s papers. Many musicologists believe that Mozart meant for this piece to be included in the Requiem after the Lacrimosa. Robert D. Levin, an American musicologist and pianist, is one of a handful of people who attempted new completions of Mozart’s Requiem in the twentieth century. Levin’s version—the one LACO will be playing this week—retains Süssmayr’s basic structure, but addresses some of the problematic aspects of style and orchestration in Süssmayr’s version. Perhaps the most important change is the reworking of the Lacrimosa to accommodate Levin’s Amen fugue, which was written from the sketch. Levin, an expert on Mozart’s work, has completed a number of fragments Mozart left unfinished, as well as some incomplete cantata movements by Bach.

The first few bars of the Lacrimosa, which are the only bars of that movement Mozart completed, are easily some of the most achingly beautiful in all of music. I know them well because I have sung them many times. As a singer who spent many, many hours in choirs, I have sung both Süssmayr’s version of the Requiem and Levin’s completion. I was first introduced to Levin’s version when I was in college, and I was struck by its boldness and its beauty. The Amen fugue is not an easy piece, but it’s absolutely breathtaking and exciting. I am delighted to experience this work again in LACO’s Discover Concert. The combination of LACO, the LA Master Chorale, the soloists, the actors, and of course, our beloved Jeffrey Kahane, will make this Discover Concert one of our best yet. I, for one, will not miss it.

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impress your friends with these 12 little-known facts about singers!

It’s not unheard of for singers and vocalists to grace the LACO stage, but it is a rare occurrence. Not this month, though! In honor of the upcoming Discover Mozart’s Requiem concert on February 19, which features soloists Alison King, Emily Fons, Nicolas Phan and Aubrey Allicock, as well as The Los Angeles Master Chorale, we’ve assembled these fun facts about the human voice, singers, and the composers who work with them. On with the show!

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1) Before his opera career took off, Luciano Pavarotti supported himself and paid for his vocal lessons by selling insurance.

2) In 1722, composer George Frideric Handel hired soprano Francesca Cuzzoni to perform in an opera he was writing. Cuzzoni was known for being difficult, which Handel experienced first-hand when she refused outright to sing one of his arias in rehearsal. Handel resolved the issue by grabbing her wrist and threatening to throw her out the window unless she sang it. His strategy worked, and she didn’t complain again (about that aria, at least).

3) Vocal coach Richard Fink IV set the Guinness World Record for longest continual vocal note when he sang a Bb for 103 seconds in 2009.

4) During her first performance in the Royal Opera House’s production of Tosca in 1964, legendary soprano Maria Callas leaned in too close to a burning candle on stage, and her wig caught on fire. Her co-star, Tito Gobbi (who was playing Scarpia), reached over and extinguished the flame with his bare hard, and while all this was happening, Maria never missed a note. Later, when she had to stab Gobbi, Maria acknowledged his quick thinking by saying under her breath, as she lifted the blade, “Grazie, Tito.”

5) Famed contralto Marian Anderson was the first African American to perform at the White House, as a guest of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1930s. She was also the first African American to perform as a member of the New York Metropolitan Opera.

6) An interactive chart was published last year comparing the vocal ranges of 75 hugely popular recording artists. Axl Rose, the lead singer from Guns ‘N’ Roses, has the widest range, from F1-Bb6, followed by Mariah Carey (F2-G7), Prince (E2-B6), and Steven Tyler from Aerosmith (D2-E6). Country star Luke Bryan has the smallest range (A2-A4), followed by Taylor Swift (E3-F#5) and Karen Carpenter (D3-F5). Other fun facts gleamed from this chart:  Bjork and Dolly Parton have the exact same vocal range (E3-D6), as do Rod Stewart and Whitney Houston (C#3-C6), Bob Dylan and Kurt Cobain (C#2-F5), and John Lennon and Elvis Presley (B1-A5). Mariah Carey beat out Christina Aguilera for the honor of being able to sing the highest note: Carey can hit G7, compared to Aguilera’s C#7. At the other end of the spectrum, Axl Rose narrowly beat out Barry White for lowest note honors. Rose can hit F1, while White’s range ended at F#1.

7) The Guinness World Record for the lowest vocal note produced by a male was set by Tim Storms in Branson, Missouri, in 2012. He hit a G -7 (0.189 Hz).

8) The oldest professional opera singer was Lou Pinchao, a Chinese performer who sang Cantonese opera well into his nineties. He was known for singing for almost 30 minutes with one foot raised and wrapped around a prop. Lou passed away in 2010.

9) While “Break a leg!” is one common way of wishing a singer good luck before a performance, in Spanish- and Portugese-speaking countries, the popular phrase is “mucha mierda,” which translates to “lots of shit.” This phrase can be traced back to the days when audiences arrived at the theater in carriages. Seeing lots of shit in front of the theater would be a good sign, because it indicated a packed house.

10) One tradition that came from the opera world is the cheering, during a curtain call, of the word “Bravo!” Be careful, though, because the word you cheer changes, depending on who’s onstage. Here’s a quick guide: It’s appropriate to yell bravo for a man and brava for a woman. If there are multiple performers, use the plural, which is bravi. If the group consists only of women, yell brave (pronounced “bra-vay”).

11) In 1991, Plácido Domingo sang the title role in Verdi’s Otello in Vienna, and the audience set a record by applauding for 80 minutes straight. There were 101 curtain calls.

12) This last one isn’t a fun fact, it’s a joke. Enjoy!
Q: How many altos does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: None. They can’t get that high.

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frank’s house

It’s not every day that I get to have a glass of wine with one of my adolescent heroes, but such was the case last August when I visited the home of Frank Gehry and his wife Berta. I’ve known of Gehry since a picture of the shiny, swooping model of the then-still-a-glimmer-of-a-wish-of-a-fantasy of Disney Hall appeared in Newsweek in the mid 90’s, and I was, in that moment, hooked. I count my visit to the Frank Gehry retrospective at the Guggehnheim in the early 2000’s to be one of the formative experiences of my creative life, and I was lucky enough to watch Disney Hall rise up out of the ground from my post as an usher at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion a few years later. The year the hall opened I painted myself silver and donned a swooping silver Disney-shaped hat for Halloween. Needless to say, I’ve been like next-level-obsessed with this guy and his work for quite some time.

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So when Margaret Batjer first told me that LACO’s Westside Connections was looking at architecture as a theme for this season, and was working on securing Frank for one of their concerts, I was over the moon, begging to be involved. We concocted a plan for me to write a piece about Frank’s house (this is actually something I’ve done before – writing music about buildings), and I was off to meet the man himself in the house he built more than 35 years ago.

I have more to say about the experience of Frank’s house than I can possibly say in this blog. You’ll have to come to the concert to hear for yourself. But more than anything, I left my drink with Frank and Berta impressed by the generous spirit they both possessed, they who sat with a young composer and talked for hours about everything – music, architecture, creativity, life. On the outside, Frank’s house can be a little intimidating. It’s all corrugated metal and chain link fence and crazy angles and sharp corners. Inside, however, it’s luminous and fun and fluid and whimsical and generous, much like the couple who live there.

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bachelor behind-the-scenes

When I was told that the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was going to be featured on an episode of the Bachelor I knew I had to find a way to be there. As a young teen I had watched my fair share of the Bachelor, and the Bachelorette. I had oohed and aahed with all my friends about who was going to win, who should be kicked out, and of course, how we would act if we were on the show. Having LACO be part of the show was my chance to finally get the backstage scoop of the inner workings of this crazy-yet addicting-show.

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When I first arrived at the Park Plaza hotel I was astounded by the sheer number of people who were working. Dozens of crew members were quickly putting the set together. Handful of flower arrangements, candles and linens-so many different linens-were strategically placed, draped and hung. By the looks of it, the crew had redecorated the hotel! But no, it was just a small, tiny section. The table where the couple ate was as big as a card table. The floor danced on? The length of a bed. However, with all the camera angles and decorations, the table looked comfortable and not itsy-bitsy. The dance floor seemed as spacious and open as when Cinderella dances with her Prince. The magic of angles, lighting and many retakes were finally revealed to me.

I can never look at TV, especially reality TV the same. But it’s because I now appreciate all the hard work that goes into making it happen. The crew team was incredible, fixing any stray hair, dress malfunction and sweaty forehead quickly and professionally. The detailing of each shot of footage was painstakingly examined and tweaked. The patience each member possessed and the comradery they had for one another was truly wonderful to watch.

But of course, we can’t forget about the LACO musicians. For me, they were the chocolate icing on the cake. The call time for the musicians was 6:00 pm and not a single person was late. In fact many of them were 20-30 minutes early. As I greeted the musicians and asked how their days were going, many answered, “I just came from a recording session.” Or “I just finished teaching at school”. It was 6:00 pm, they had already put in a full day of playing, teaching, or practicing and they still had a 5 hour gig that night. The life of a musician really never stops!

At 6:30 pm sharp they began to rehearse. It was the first rehearsal. It was the first time playing with the guest conductor. It was the first time for many of them to look at the music. And yet, not a single note was wrongly played. The harpist strummed away as if it was her favorite piece in the whole world. The basses-my favorite to watch-plucked away like they had been playing this their entire life. And the soloists? Not a faulty breath or shaky note. No, it was magical listening and watching them play. It was clear they truly loved performing and had a deep understanding of their instruments. They could not have looked more professional yet at ease if the director had told them to. When LACO began to play the whole Bachelor crew stopped working. How could they not? It was beautiful. Some people even started dancing, faking a waltz and stepping on toes (clearly they didn’t watch Dancing with the Stars enough). The atmosphere in the whole hotel changed from frantic work to calm and serene enjoyment. That was what the LACO musicians could do.

In 30 minutes, they both rehearsed and recorded the sound for the episode. The director was shocked that they were now ahead of schedule. As I later learned, this rarely happens! The musicians quickly and quietly left the ball room to get a quick dinner before the taping started.

When the taping finally started (at this point it was around 9:45) it was my first time seeing the Bachelor and his lovely date. She looked incredible. Her gown was a beautiful shade of blue and fit her like a glove. Her hair was perfectly done and her makeup artist was close at hand to retouch any lipstick or eyeliner issues that arose. As the couple walked up the stairs to the dance stage, I caught a glimpse of her shoes. Holy mackerel. They were at least 5 inches tall! And stilettos! If you’ve ever worn heels-any heels, then you can really appreciate the skill it took for her to gracefully make her way around.

The next hour and a half was spent taping the dance. It was interesting to see how each time they did the scene, the couple seemed to become more comfortable with each other and began to have more fun. By the last taping, they were laughing and goofing off as if they were childhood sweethearts. It was surprisingly touching to watch. When the final dance had finished and the taping was over, all of the crew cheered, clapped and finally began talking again. The scene was over. It was now back to real reality. The one without the orchestra, the gowns, and the ballroom. I noticed though, as everybody began cleaning and packing up, the songs LACO played were being hummed and whistled by many. The music continued to play.

Getting to observe the taping of The Bachelor has definitely been added to my list of “Awesome things I’ve done in LA”. I’m so lucky that LACO gave me the opportunity of a lifetime!

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john adams the minimalist

Back when I was a young music student and I first heard of John Adams, I thought, the second president of the United States was a composer!? But of course, I hadn’t yet heard of John Adams (b. 1946), nor had I the pleasure of hearing the music of this artist, who is one of the most influential and well-known living composers. John Adams was born and raised in New England. He played music from a young age, and started writing original music when he was just 10 years old. He attended Harvard, and while in Boston, soaked up the musical offerings of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. After his time at Harvard ended (two degrees conferred), Adams moved to San Francisco to teach at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In 1982, he was named composer-in-residence of the San Francisco Symphony, and founded and curated their “New and Unusual Music” series. He is currently the Creative Chair of the LA Phil, and curates its Minimalist Jukebox festival.

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John Adams is often classified as a minimalist composer, and perhaps it’s important to define precisely what this term “minimalism” means. In the realm of 20th century music, “minimalism” refers to music that often features short phrases repeated a large number of times or that may gradually go through a process of change or transformation. There is routinely a steady pulse in pieces like these, and there is not necessarily a harmonic goal, so the music becomes more about the process rather than traditional harmonic language, or narrative or representative stories. There are five American composers generally associated with the early days of minimalism: John Adams, LaMonte Young, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass.

Some early minimalist pieces were produced on tape loops, and explored the resulting sounds when two loops of the same phrase were slowly drawn out of phase with each other. Later, this idea of phasing was explored with live instruments, to great effect. One of the pieces on LACO’s upcoming concert is John Adams’ Shaker Loops from 1978. The “loop” of the title was inspired by these tape loop compositions, although there are no tape loops used in the piece. Shaker Loops started out as a string quartet called “Wavemaker,” which was an exploration of two ideas: 1) minimalist procedures and 2) the ripples made when the surface of water is broken or disturbed. The “Shaker” of the title might suggest the religious sect (so named because their worship included shaking and dancing), but it actually grew out of the idea of string tremolo, a technique that requires the player to quickly repeat a note by moving the bow back and forth in a continuous motion. According to the composer, when he was writing this piece, he was thinking of “long sequences of oscillating melodic cells that created a rippling, shimmering complex of patterns like the surface of a slightly agitated pond or lake.”

The first iteration of this piece in “Wavemaker” didn’t work in the way Adams had hoped, so he expanded the work for seven string instruments. The version LACO is playing is actually a third version, which was arranged for string orchestra. The added instruments allow for more possibilities in terms of texture. There four movements of the piece, “Shaking and Trembling,” “Hymning Slews” “Loops and Verses,” and “A Final Shaking.” Like other minimalist pieces in which the short ideas transform gradually, over time, the musical ideas in each movement display gradual changes in focus. Sometimes, the waves seem to crash into each other, while in other parts the sounds mesh into one. It’s a fascinating piece to both watch and hear, and the synchronization of the ensemble’s collaboration is absolutely key to the success of the piece. I’ve not yet heard this piece in live performance, so I’m very excited to experience the energy of this piece on stage.

My first experience with the music of John Adams was Nixon in China, a ground-breaking opera he composed in 1985-1987. It premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in October of 1987. It was a joint commission by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Houston Grand Opera, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Alice Goodman penned the libretto, which covers the arrival of Pat and Richard Nixon in China and continues through the subsequent meetings and events of this historic visit. I was struck by the power of minimalist music when used by a large orchestra, and it’s still one of my favorite operas. It wasn’t universally praised when it premiered, but in the nearly 30 years since it was composed, it has been recognized as a very important work in twentieth century opera, and it has endured in a way its early detractors never thought possible.

John Adams won the Pulitzer in 2003 for a work called On the Transmigration of Souls, a work commemorating the lives lost on 9/11. As a native New Yorker, I felt that the choice of Adams as the voice of such a work seemed a natural. It’s a moving and touching piece meshing orchestra, adult choir, children’s choir, and tape. Adams still composes and curates and conducts. In 2008 he published a memoir called Hallelujah Junction. He came to the Los Angeles Public Library to give a talk, which I attended. When he took questions, I asked him this: “Do you compose every day?” To which he answered, “Yes, I try to, even if it’s just a little bit.” This is a good lesson I think about a lot, especially at the beginning of a year. How can I make this year more productive than the last? I think of John Adams and his answer: whatever you do, try to do a little bit each day.

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welcome, karina!

Most musicians I know would be content playing in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra or the Berlin Philharmonic on a regular basis. Some might even have the privilege of being asked to solo with professional orchestras across the country. Apparently for Karina Canellakis, that was not enough. Following in her father’s footsteps, she decided to pursue conducting at The Julliard School. She received her Master’s in orchestral conducting and she won 2013 Schiff Conducting Award for outstanding achievement in orchestral conducting, the American Conductors Award, Bruno Walter Memorial Scholarship and the Isidore Komanoff Award. With her academic success, she has now moved to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as the new Assistant Conductor this season where she continues to impress the musical community. Even at the last minute.

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Karina Canellakis was called into action in the middle of the night on October 3, 2014. Jaap van Zweden, the Music Director of the DSO, was experiencing strong shoulder pains while preparing the orchestra for a weekend of concerts. Jaap van Zweden conducted both concerts both Thursday and Friday night, but the pain was too much and after seeing a doctor, he needed to recover. It was in this moment in which the spotlight moved to Canellakis. With Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 8 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14, Canellakis had her work cut out for her. As the Dallas Morning News stated, “she rose spectacularly to the challenge Saturday night, leading with great clarity and expressivity” and listed this performance as one of the Top 10 classical music performances of 2014. Her thorough preparation and excellent execution earned her a standing ovation and thunderous feet shuffles from the orchestra.

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra would like to congratulate Karina on her triumph upon the podium in Dallas and cannot wait to begin preparing for a weekend of music for LACO’s 4th concert of the orchestral series on January 24th and 25th. She will display both her talent on solo violin and conducting. The program will include Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in E-flat major and Peteris Vasks’ Lonely Angel and following that, she will lead the orchestra through John Adams’ Shaker Loops and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major in LACO’s 4th concert of the orchestral series. Best of luck and welcome Ms. Canellakis!

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