Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



the untrained ear

two kahanes for the price of one!

April 22, 2012

One of the things I love most about LACO is how they continually premiere new works. It’s fun and exciting to be part of the very first audience that gets to hear a new piece of music, and I felt that excitement again this past weekend, when LACO presented the west coast premiere of Gabriel Kahane’s Crane Palimpsest. If the name Kahane seems familiar to you, it’s probably because of LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane, who happens to be Gabriel’s father. The similarities don’t end with the name: In addition to a striking family resemblance, both Kahanes are extraordinarily gifted musicians, and Crane Palimpsest was one of the most unique pieces of music I’ve heard on the LACO stage. Here’s why:

Crane Palimpsest seemed to stretch the boundaries of orchestral music. Gabriel set poetry by Hart Crane about the Brooklyn Bridge to music, and it opens with creaks and strains, which sounded to me like the wind blowing through the bridge’s cables. The piece alternated between orchestral passages and more song-like passages, with Gabriel performing on both guitar and piano, and singing throughout. I’ll admit that I like the song parts a little more, and was intrigued by how Gabriel used the orchestra during those parts. I loved hearing sounds and noises that I couldn’t identify – it showed me that Gabriel was using instruments in different ways. All in all, it was thrilling to witness the birth of something new, and something unlike anything I’ve seen on the LACO stage.

Oh, and I learned a new word: palimpsest! It sounds like something nasty that would need to be removed by a doctor, but it’s actually a piece of music that features the layering of many different themes and melodies. The concert opened with another palimpsest, Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England. Jeffrey Kahane introduced this piece by commenting on how well Ives, as a composer, captured the American experience, although in a way that wasn’t highly regarded during his time (about a hundred years ago). Sure enough, while beautiful, the piece was rather unsettling, and I completely understand why Ives’ contemporaries may have thought he was a little loony. Each of the three movements is inspired by and named after a specific place, but based on this music, I wouldn’t want to visit any of them. Each movement was ominous and spooky. The second movement, which was the most boisterous by far, sounded like the soundtrack to an old-timey county fair, but one where nothing seems quite right: the ferris wheel is on the verge of crumbling; people go into the Tunnel of Love but never come out; the clowns’ make-up is a little too disturbing. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy Three Places In New England, because I did – it’s just wasn’t the sort of stuff you’d hear in a tourism commercial.

The theme of location-based music continued after the intermission, with a performance of Haydn’s 104th Symphony, which is called “London.” Part of this symphony (the third movement) seemed really familiar to me, although I don’t know why, and I interpret that as a sign that I’m actually learning something and retaining information from all these LACO concerts! Despite the familiarity, my attention wandered and wavered during the symphony. It was my least favorite part of the evening, although I appreciated how lively and precise it was.

And with that, LACO’s 2011-12 season is over. Only a few more months until the new season starts in the fall – and I’ll be back, blogging after every concert! Will you be joining me at the Alex Theatre or Royce Hall?

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