Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



the untrained ear

beethoven's eroica, inside and out

February 23, 2014

I look forward to LACO’s annual “Discover” concert more than any other concert on their schedule. It’s a concert cut out for an orchestral music novice like me, because in addition to hearing a staggering performance of a classic, I’m also exposed to a tremendous amount of great information, and that’s due to the unique structure of the concert. Unlike the rest of LACO’s concerts, the “Discover” concert focuses on a singular piece of music, but before you hear it played, LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane serves as what’s called a “musical tour guide,” and presents what I can best describe as a cross between a lecture and a musical presentation. He dives into the history of the piece, the composer’s life and point-of-view when it was written, and draws comparisons and contrasts to the music that proceeded it and the music that came after. This year, that treatment was given to Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, known as the “Eroica,” and, like the “Discover” concerts in previous years, this was a compelling and thoroughly entertaining evening.

I won’t bother trying to distill Kahane’s hour-long presentation, and I’m not going to summarize any of the talking points (as I’m sure to get them wrong). But I can vouch with utter certainty that Kahane provided a rich, complex tapestry of context for the “Eroica” Symphony. He spent a good amount of time explaining the piece’s connections to the Prometheus myth, which served as a major influence and source of inspiration. I found it particularly interesting how Beethoven adapted the meter of the ancient Greek poems about Prometheus and used it in his music. It was also fun to hear how Beethoven wove the same melody into four different pieces in four different ways.

Oh, and did I mention that all these musical talking points were illustrated, on the spot, by the orchestra, which was onstage during the entire presentation? Any time Kahane wanted us to hear a snippet of music, whether it be an entire overture, a melody line, or even a few chords, the musicians swung into action and played them. He even brought in a harpist to play a snippet from the only Beethoven piece that featured a harp, and there was a grand piano front and center so Kahane himself could play passages and chords that were relevant to the topic.

There were a few times when I got a little lost, especially when Kahane addressed repeating notes and themes that were woven throughout the “Eroica.” Kahane also mentioned, at the beginning, how revolutionary “Eroica” was at the time, and how it forever changed classical music, but he never really explained why or how. (Perhaps he did during the Q&A that followed the concert, but I wasn’t able to stick around.)

All in all, I don’t have much to complain about. Kahane mentioned that there are literally a million pages of academic text over the years about this piece of music and its place in the grand scheme of things, and I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to boil down all that information and theory into a thought-provoking and educational one-hour presentation.

After the intermission, we got to hear the “Eroica” performed in its entirety, and man oh man, it was beautiful. I loved the moments when I could pinpoint themes and passages that Kahane had discussed earlier. I felt swept up by the whole evening. I was swept up into the past, having heard so much about the very beginnings of the 19th century, when Beethoven wrote this piece. I was also swept up in the present, as part of an audience at an event designed to keep us connected to that past in vibrant and spectacular ways.

Only roughly 364 days until the next “Discover” concert – will I see you there?

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