December 30, 2013
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney
LACO’s November performance of Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony was a pretty cool one for me because I got to bring a very special guest: my mom. A resident of British Columbia, she doesn’t make it down to LA very often; so I when I saw there was a LACO performance scheduled for the week she was visiting, I knew I had to bring her. She reads all of my blogs (obligatory mom thing) and was interested to see some of the people I’ve written about in action. I wanted her to experience the magic of Jeffrey Kahane, or Margaret Batjer, or any of the other amazing composers, concertmasters, and soloists I’ve seen. I just really wanted her to enjoy LACO as much as I have.
…But…as I paged through the program that night I didn’t see JK’s name listed, or MB’s. In fact, I didn’t recognize ANY of the names in the program. Instead, I saw that some guy named Hans Graf was going to be conducting. Who on earth is that? I mean, I love the name Hans Graf (sounds like a cool futuristic bounty hunter’s name), but having a cool name doesn’t mean you’re going to be a wizard with that baton. All I knew was that my mom’s enjoyment of LACO was in this new guy’s hands, and he had a lot to prove.
The evening began with an excellent Hitchcockian thriller called Mystère de l’instant. The piece had many moments of tension, suspense, surprise; it rose and dipped in a way that kept you captivated throughout. And, although I would describe it as somewhat scary, it wasn’t too weirdly modern like some of the other pieces I’ve heard at LACO, such as Witold Lutosławski’s Chain 2. At one point Teresea Stanislav, who filled in nicely for Margret as the concertmaster, pulled off an impressive violin solo that sonically conveyed the mindset of a Norman Bates. So far LACO was coming through for my mom.
Next up was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 24 in C minor. I usually find Mozart’s music a bit too intense, and No. 24 was no different. It sounded like the thoughts of a cantankerous old curmudgeon haunted by memories of better times in his life. The highlight of the concerto was guest pianist Alessio Bax (whose name sounds like a solid Star Wars character). This guy used no sheet music and absolutely nailed the jaw-droppingly complex piano requirements of the piece. I think my mom was pretty impressed.
The final piece of the evening was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, aka “Pastoral”. I absolutely loved this symphony. It felt like a perfect fit for the fall/winter holiday season. It had a certain joy and celebratory mood that made me feel happy to be with my mom…until the fifth movement. The fifth movement went really dark. Like REALLY dark. It was essentially an instrumental reproduction of a terrifying thunderstorm, and it didn’t fit in with the rest of the piece. I’m really curious to learn why Beethoven included it in this at all. Like why is there a storm song in the middle of this nice, cheery pastoral? Storms are not pastorial-y. What was he thinking? You blew it Beethoven.
Despite Beethoven’s questionable musical choices and JK and Margaret’s absence, LACO put on a great concert. I can confidently add Hans Graf to my list of awesome conductors, and undoubtedly my mother had a great time.
Final tangent: The beginning of the Pastoral symphony sounded incredibly familiar to me and I couldn’t place where I knew it from. After the concert I did some research and found that Pastoral had been famously featured in Fantasia. As a fidgety and active child I knew I had been taken to see Fantasia at some point but I remembered none of the music or incredible animation except Mickey with a bunch of terrifying buckets and brooms. I re-watched the clip of the Pastoral part on youtube and felt like I had never seen it before. Weird Pegasus families flying around? No thanks. Faun babies pestering unicorns? Pass. No wonder I didn’t like that film. Then it came to me: Animaniacs. I realized that this cartoon was one of my earliest exposures to Beethoven and I’m not sure if that was a good thing or not. You be the judge: