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the untrained ear

the musical surprise I was never expecting

January 28, 2014

the musical surprise I was never expecting

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Orchestra

I’ve been coming to LACO concerts for years (I can’t believe I’ve been blogging for them since 2008... time has just flown by!). So you’d think one of these days I’d learn my lesson and not indulge any preconceived notions of what I’ll like or not like, because every single time I do that, I’m wrong. The LACO concert last weekend (Mozart, Beethoven & Haydn) was a perfect example. I arrived to Royce Hall early, and was able to spend a few minutes perusing the wonderful program notes before the concert. I read about Musica Celestis by Aaron Jay Kernis, a piece I was particularly interested in because 1) he’s a current, very-much-alive composer and 2) I’ve never heard of him or his music. And as soon as I read the first six words about this piece of music, I had my mind made up. And I was dead wrong.

The paragraph begins with “Musica Celestis is an ethereal piece…” and that was all I needed to rudely dismiss it as something I wasn’t going to like. When I think of “ethereal” music, my mind goes to meandering or atonal music that’s lacking structure and is a complete snooze. Because of that, I was certain I wasn’t going to enjoy Musica Celestis, but sure enough… it was by far my favorite piece of the evening.

It was simply stunning. The piece only required strings, and was built around layered, thick, extended notes and chords that fluidly morphed and evolved in a variety of ways. There were very regal, weighty passages and lighter, floating sections as well. I found the sounds isolating and desolate, but welcoming all the same.

Musica Celestis, along with the rest of the program, was led by guest conductor Matthew Halls, a handsome fellow who was incredibly familiar with the pieces in the program. How familiar was he? He led the entire concert without referring to a single score. There wasn’t even a music stand on his platform. Homeboy knows his classical music! Now that’s impressive!

The rest of the program consisted of pieces by Mozart, Beethoven & Haydn – the three composers that made up the concert’s name. The Mozart portion was the Ballet Music from Idomeneo, his 1780 opera. I was pleasantly surprised by the vigor and energy in this piece, which didn’t seem appropriate for a ballet, but what do I know? I know less about ballet than I do about classical music, and my classical music knowledge is nothing to shake a stick at.

The Haydn and Beethoven were enjoyable and beautifully executed, but I found them completely forgettable. I’m writing this less than 48 hours after the concert, and I don’t remember a single thing about them, except that the Haydn had four soloists and was a sinfonia concertante, which is a form of music that I had never been exposed to before.

The Beethoven piece was his Symphony #1, and it turns out this was the second time I’ve heard LACO perform it. I was in the audience when it was performed in 2009, and in my blog post about that concert, I didn’t even mention it at all. Not a single word. Must’ve been forgettable for me back then, too! I suppose Beethoven’s First Symphony and me go together like oil and water.

How funny that LACO named the concert after the three powerhouse composers that ended up leaving the smaller impact on me. If it was up to me, I would’ve named this concert Musica Celestis!

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