Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

LACO newbie

beethoven's second

November 16, 2012

beethoven's second

So I’d like to start off my second blog as a newbie by addressing a newbie mistake I made in the first blog. My first cousin once removed (genealogical translation: my mother’s cousin) an orchestra member of the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra wrote me this comment after reading my last blog:

While I fully recognize that you’re not familiar with the traditional classical music lexicon, I have one little suggestion . . . okay, maybe it’s a request. Could you please use the term “work” or “piece” to describe each musical selection instead of “song”. I think it may have a little more “street cred”, even for newbies!

As I consider my life a constant search for street cred, I will, from this moment on, refrain from the use of the common word “song” when describing a “piece”, “work” or even a “piece of work”. Although this will mean one less synonym for me to use which kind of sucks. Any suggestions for new words to describe a piece of classical music are now being accepted. Would it be inappropriate to use the term “jam”? Probably. But that leads me into the actual concert I witnessed on Saturday night at the Alex Theater. If I had to describe one “piece” I heard during the concert as my “jam” it would certainly be Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36. But I’m getting ahead of myself because Beethoven’s Second was the closer of the night so I’ll go back and start from the beginning.

The evening’s performance began with Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings, Op. 47 (for blog purposes I’m going to refer to it as Op. 47 because it sounds kind of cool and is shorter). Before the performance I was excited to learn that Elgar was the guy behind “that graduation song” (this was before I knew not to use song so I’m okay to use it here), aka Pomp & Circumstance March, No. 1 (a fantastic title by the way). But compared to Pomp & Circumstance, I found Op. 47 to be much more of a serious and somber affair. Maybe schools should start playing Op. 47 on the first day of school.

Next up was a world premiere from the composer and conductor of the evening’s concert, Benjamin Wallfisch that was simply titled Violin Concerto. Personally, I would have called it “Discovering a Terrifying New Reality” or “Impending Murder Mystery” as the work had a very foreboding and ominous tone. It also felt very cinematic, which makes sense as Benjamin Wallfisch often works as a conductor for film scores (such as Atonement, Moon and V For Vendetta). The piece really came alive through violin soloist Tereza Stanislav who performed the concerto wearing a striking silver and black dress that fit the modern and hair-raising theme of the performance.

And finally we’re back to my “jam” of the night: Beethoven’s Second. Not to be confused with the major motion picture of the same name in which “America’s top dog is back, and this time, he’s bringing the kids.”

St. Bernard film jokes aside, I thought Beethoven’s Second was a real joy to listen to. I just felt really zen and relaxed while taking the music in. It was like a yoga class with none of the physical effort. But there was one aspect of the performance that I found troubling which was 100% attributed to my “newbie” status. Since the piece was divided up into four movements there was a lull in between each in which the orchestra would stop to change their musical sheets. When the first movement ended I was all ready to clap because I thought it was great. But just as I reached my hands out to applaud I noticed that no one else in the theater was making this move. I quickly put my hands at my side, playing it cool. Was there something I missed? Perhaps there was a musical faux pas that my untrained ear had missed brought about this cold silence from my peers? Was Benjamin Wallfisch pulling a musical coup on Beethoven by adding some of his own cinematic flare? I put aside thoughts of witnessing an impending audience revolt as the next movement began. The next break in the symphony came and the clapping embargo continued yet no one attacked Wallfisch. He must be innocent. I continued my mental investigation as the music began for the third movement. Finally Beethoven’s music helped to give way to logical clarity: we’re probably just waiting until the very end to clap. And of course that’s how it went down and I unleashed my bottled up clapping with the rest of the audience at the end. Although I suppose I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t unravel a classical music conspiracy.


Oh god, the clapping thing. It bugs me that this is such an uptight issue. When you're listening to acoustic instruments, it's important to remain quiet, but the last thing classical music needs is one more insider shibboleth. Telling people how to express their enjoyment of a piece of music brings to mind the image of a person who instructs all of their lovers exactly how they want them to perform and then wonders why no one will go to bed with them. o_O

One of the nice things about liking and arranging opera arias for piano is that I get to use the word "song" even if it makes people's feet itch. I've arranged three SONGS by Haendel for piano! Hah! Make me stop saying it! And no, I'm not going to call them arias!

  • —Janis, November 16, 2012 05:40 pm

I wish my comment had just been flat-out not approved instead of edited so it doesn't make the point I intended ...

  • —Janis
    November 16, 2012 08:21 pm

FCOR here! (First Cousin Once Removed) I'm loving the fresh take on your adventures in classical music - songs, jams, works ... whatever! I don't want anyone to think that I'm stuck on (or stuck up) about the terminology.

As for the clapping between 'lulls' aka 'movements':-)), there are some that suggest it interrupts the flow of the 'work' or distracts the musicians. Personally, I think it suggests to the musicians that the audience is listening, engaged and excited. Often a soloist will deliver a dazzling solo riff at the end of a first movement (aka 'the cadenza') that audiences can't help but acknowledge with some expression of sound - clapping, stamping or even hooting! So, dearest cousin once removed, if the music moves you, feel free to let it be known. I mean, what's the worst that can happen?

If you feel so inclined, please LIKE the Vancouver Philharmonic Orchestra on Facebook. We welcome adventurous followers!

  • —FCOR, November 18, 2012 09:55 am

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