Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



LACO newbie

rilling me softly

February 05, 2013

First of all, if you’re reading this, happy 2013 to you. LACO started out 2013 with an all Mozart extravaganza featuring Mozart’s unfinished final composition Requiem in D minor K. 626. Tangent: If you’re like me you’re probably wondering what the heck a “K. 626” is. No, it’s not the planet where “Aliens” takes place (LV-426). Apparently it’s a designation of the Köchel catalog, which is a chronology of all Mozart’s work created in 1862 by a guy named Ludwig von Köchel. I’m almost positive that Ludwig would have LOVED Wikipedia. End of tangent.

The evening began with Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 (K. 543 for all you Köchel Catalog enthusiasts out there). This evening featured guest conductor Helmuth Rilling who was as cool as his name would suggest. I knew Rilling was an original gangster of conducting the moment he walked on stage wearing a coat with tails. He walked up to his conducting podium and . . oh that’s odd . . . there was no sheet music for him to refer to for the performance. At first I figured one of those crazy bassoon guys must have been playing a trick on the new guy, a classic hide the sheet music gag. Psh, yeah right! Turns out Helmuth doesn’t even use sheet music! He knew all these Mozart pieces off the top of his head! It was just him and his baton.

Anyways, Symphony 39 was an enjoyable piece to listen to. It began in a regal waltz-y way but would suddenly get manic and faster paced only to go back to being elegant and delicate for awhile. It was schizophrenic but in a good way. I kept imagining a bunch of high society party goers circa 1787 in frilly dresses/suits and white wigs trying to waltz to it and getting really frustrated. And they would have to keep spraying themselves with perfume because bathing back then wasn’t as easy as it is now. At some of the more serene points I also imagined Jane Austen swooning.

After intermission it was time for Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor. This performance was quite a production featuring singers. This meant that not only was a guest classical music boss/don (aka Helmuth Rilling) in the house but we also had USC’s Thorton Chamber Singers and four lead vocalists (soprano, alto, tenor and bass) who joined in as well. As the Requiem began I was slightly creeped out by the eerie singing of the chamber singers. It seemed like a soundtrack to doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing but you do it anyways. Like sneaking into a shadowy secret society that explicitly doesn’t allow outsiders. Speaking of which, apparently much of Mozart’s final compositions were inspired by his membership to the mysterious Masons (read it in the LACO program notes).

The Requiem mellows out after a bit but certainly goes back it’s earlier sinister choir sound at points. Since the four lead vocalists sat up front I couldn’t help but interpret their facial expressions over the course of the performance. During their required parts, each singer would stand and sing on their own or occasionally together. But for vast stretches they would just sit there. Three out of four of them seemed pretty happy to be performing, occasionally smiling or observing the orchestra. But the bass singer, Michael Dean, was a rock of somberness verging on ornery. He NEVER smiled! When he wasn’t singing he was darkly looking off into space. Not angry or annoyed mind you. It was pure intensity. But it totally fit the tone of his parts since his deep voice was often applied during the darker moments of the Requiem. He was like the Daniel Day Lewis of the Requiem. He also sort of reminded me of sad jailhouse Mr. Bates (Downton Abbey represent). Of course the USC Chamber Singers were by far the most excited to be there. They were enjoyably animated and really provided the heart of the Requiem performance.

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