April 28, 2014
LACO’s annual Sound Investment premiere concert is quickly becoming one of my favorites of the year. This year, the official name of the concert was “Chopin: Piano Concerto,” but I didn’t show up for Chopin, I showed up for Sound Investment premiere. I’m glad I heard the Chopin, and I’ll get to that piece a little later, but I’ll start with the Sound Investment premiere. Did I mention it was a premiere?
Sound Investment is LACO’s commissioning club. It’s been around for 13 years, but this is only my second year participating. In a nutshell, you make a donation to join the club, and all those donations get compiled and are given to a promising, exciting young composer, who then writes a brand-spanking-new piece of music. It provides a very rare opportunity for any Joe Sixpack (or Untrained Ear, like myself) to help bring a new piece of orchestral music into the world, and during the course of the season, investors get invited to a few events to see how the work is coming along. Learn more about Sound Investment and join the club!
This year’s Sound Investment composer was Hannah Lash, and she introduced her piece, This Ease, by saying that it was not influenced by any sort of outside event or emotion. I’m a creative sort, and that struck me as intriguing, and actually probably very difficult to pull off. Kudos to Ms. Lash for retreating into a creative space, again and again over the course of a year, and never letting anything seep in to color or affect this piece of music!
I ended up feeling one resounding thing as I listened to This Ease: anticipation. There’s a moment in many adventure movies – think The Goonies or Indiana Jones – where an object of desire (some sort of treasure, medallion, or jewel, for example) is revealed for the first time. The music is humming with anticipation: bright sounds that reflect the grandeur and importance of the object, with unsettling elements weaving their way through the background, like musical foreshadowing that hints of the danger, mystery, and power that the object can bring.
This Ease sounded like an 18-20 minute experiment in that moment. The piece evolved and grew, but it never lost that sense of anticipation. It was full of complex sounds and stunning instrument combinations, and was enjoyable, and, at moments, breathtaking to listen to. In a way, though, I felt unsatisfied, because that anticipation never grew into anything. There was no sense of conclusion. Imagine being handed a wrapped present and spending 20 minutes looking at it, smelling it, shaking it, turning it over in your hands, imagining the multitude of things it could contain, but never being able to open it. That’s how I felt at the end of This Ease. It was an exciting exploration, and beautiful too, but anticlimactic.
Chopin, on the other hand, knew how to write a climax. His Piano Concert No. 2 ended with a exhilarating flourish, delivered by the impressive LACO musicians and an incredibly dynamic guest soloist, Natasha Paremski. The solo passages throughout all three movements were endlessly impressive. Ms. Paremski’s fingers danced up and down the keyboard for the duration of the piece, and her encore, which was the 3rd movement of some Prokofiev piece (I couldn’t quite hear her from my seat), was downright dizzying. The Chopin provided me some unintentional chuckles, too. While Jeffrey Kahane conducted the entire evening, he was blocked entirely by the raised piano lid during the Chopin, and there were stretches that I forgot he was even there, until I would see, during his grander gestures, a single outstretched arm, baton in hand, enthusiastically leading the musicians. Ah, piano lids!