Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



the untrained ear

crossing 'commission a piece of music' off my bucket list

April 22, 2013

Omigosh, omigosh, omigosh, guess what? I commissioned a piece of music! And you can too! If you’re new around these parts, allow me to introduce you to LACO’s Sound Investment program. It’s a simple, brilliant idea. Pony up some cash, and in exchange, a talented composer writes a piece of music. Anyone can do it. All you do is go to the Sound Investment page – all the information is there. Although the Sound Investment program has been around for over a decade, this was my first time participating as a member. I signed up as a “first-timer,” or Sound Sample member, made a $150 contribution to the fund and a few nights ago, I got to hear my piece of music being performed for the very first time. A wold premiere! The piece I helped commission is called Music in Circles III, written by Andrew Norman, who was there in person to introduce his work. And he had some interesting things to say!

Andrew prefaced his work by saying how interested he was in silence. While the musicians on stage generally provided the music at concerts like these, the audience can participate, alongside the musicians, by providing silence. That is something we can all do together, he said (forgive me for paraphrasing). So his piece explored silence, featured lots of silence, and then grew and blossomed out of the silence. He warned us that the musicians would play notes that we probably wouldn’t even be able hear, but that’s okay with him, because this piece is all about the exploration of silence.

I have to confess I fought the urge to roll my eyes a little bit when I heard that warning. Only because, and I mean no disrespect or offense to Andrew Norman, I can not hear music whenever I like from the comfort of my own home. I don’t put on shoes and head to Glendale to not hear music. And it was a little bizarre to see, for the first few minutes of the piece, music director Jeffrey Kahane cue musicians across the stage, and then watch those musicians make contact with their instruments, and not hear a single thing come of it. And that brings me to my other initial observation – it’s really hard for a room full of hundreds of people to be absolutely silent. There’s always some noise to contend with, whether it’s a cough, a candy wrapper or a creaky seat. I think we failed at being completely silent, but we gave it a good go. Well, I suppose I can’t speak for the the other concertgoers, but I did.

Andrew Norman deserves my full credit, however, because after an awkward first few minutes, I understood more what he was getting at, and, as he predicted, the individual musicians combined and connected with one another in interesting and unexpected ways. Soon, the entire stage was humming and murmuring with the sounds of an orchestra finding its collective voice, just as he had told us it would. I kinda wished that the collective voice would have included, say, a melody, but perhaps I’m just a little old-fashioned that way. After the sounds meandered and mingled, and combined with and contradicted each other, swelling and subsiding in seemingly random ways, they started fading away, dissipating into the corners from which they appeared, until once again we were left with the silence we started with.

It was truly a unique experience, and I would compare it to a flock of birds, if you’ll indulge me in an extended metaphor. You’re just sitting there, minding your own business, when a single bird appears, fluttering about. Then a second one and a third one appears. Soon the horizon is filled with birds fluttering in all directions, coming closer and closer. You don’t know where they came from, or why they’re here, or what they’re doing. Some are beautiful to look at, others you want to swat away. They aren’t flying in patterns, and, for the most part, they ignore each other and you. Then, just as they came, they start flying away, disappearing with the wind, and when you’re alone again, all you can think is “what just happened?”

I found that I appreciated Music in Circles III more than I enjoyed it. That appreciation partly stems from my connection to it, as a Sound Investment member. For me, that appreciation was enough. Never before could I leave the Alex Theatre knowing that I helped, in my own little way as a patron, bring a new piece to life.

A few days before the concert, I received in the mail my subscription renewal form for LACO’s next season. The day after the concert, I popped it in the mail, but not after I signed up for my second year as a Sound Investment member. The next commission is going to a composer named Hannah Lash, and I can’t wait to hear what she cooks up!

PS – The concert also included works by Handel, Mozart, and a composer I had never heard of before named Alberto Ginastera, and while listening to those pieces was a lovely experience, they didn’t quite rev my engine the way Andrew Norman’s piece did.

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