Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



the untrained ear

the encore that made me wince

October 20, 2013

Did you make it LACO’s Haydn: Cello Concerto over the weekend? It was definitely a crowd-pleaser – in fact, there were two encores! Before the intermission, guest cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras (more on him below) performed part of Bach’s Cello Suite #1, and at the end of the show, guest mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin (more on her later, too!), accompanied by Joshua Ranz on clarinet and the rest of the Orchestra, performed Mozart aria, “Parto, parto” from an opera called La clamenza di Tito. Before I go further, let me elaborate on this post’s title: Yes, the second encore made me wince, but not because of the performance. It was stellar. I winced later, when I got home, when I read of its connection to a now-illegal musical practice that makes me shiver every time I think about it.

In La clamenza di Tito “Parto, parto” is sung by Sesto, a young man. The role of Sesto requires a soprano range, so, as was common in the late 1700s, it was performed by a castrato. Castrato were men that were castrated before puberty to preserve their voices before testosterone altered them. Ugh – I just winced and shivered again! Luckily for boys with angelic voices, castrato are things of the past. Italy prohibited the practice in 1870, and Pope Pius X banned them in 1903. Remember that when you’re a contestant on Jeopardy!

My favorite piece of the evening was the one that opened the concert, Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge. There were ten variations in total, plus the introduction, and the music fluctuated from somber and reflective to energetic and upbeat. The variations differed in length and tone, so there was a sense of spontaneity during the performance – I never knew what was coming next, or when it would arrive. During one variation, the cellists were rigorously strumming their cellos like they were guitars, which is something I’ve never seen before.

The other highlight was the final piece, which was the US premiere of Bruce Adolphe’s Do You Dream in Color? Mr. Adolphe was in attendance, and the vocal soloist, the enchanting Laurie Rubin, wrote the poem that the piece is based on, so it was a very special experience to be among the very first people in the country to witness this piece being played. Ms. Rubin’s voice is extraordinary, and I’m grateful that her poem was included in the program so I could follow along a little bit and understand more fully the very personal story that she was sharing. There are tons of pieces and songs that tell stories, but in the orchestral world, those pieces are often abstract or even obtuse. This story was laid out right in front of me, and I appreciated that very much.

There were two additional pieces that were performed during the concert. Guest cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras performed during the Haydn Cello Concerto in C major. He was front and center, on a little wooden platform that was nearly the same color as his cello – and while his skill and grace were hard to ignore, the set-up reminded me of a music box, and I caught myself wondering, between movements, if someone was underneath the stage, winding the crank so Mr. Queyras could keep playing. And that, folks, is where my mind wanders when I’m not so invested in the piece. While the performance was beautiful, the Haydn was not my cup of tea.

The other piece was Mozart’s Serenata Notturna, and except for a couple interesting and unexpected solos by the bass and percussion musicians, I don’t remember a thing. In one ear and out the other.

I’ll wrap this up by saying that this was the last LACO event at Ambassador Auditorium until February’s Discover Beethoven’s Eroica concert. That bums me out, because the Ambassador is my favorite venue in town. Soon, the Alex Theater in Glendale will finish their renovation, and LACO will go back to performing their Orchestral Series there. My secret dream is that the Alex renovation resulted in a mid-century modern columned building with glass walls, a reflecting pool, and a gorgeous chandelier and fountain. I have a hunch my dream probably won’t become a reality . . . but it sure is fun to dream, isn’t it?

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