Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra blog

telling tales

March 16, 2014

the comeback kid

the comeback kid

So it’s JS Bach’s birthday again. LACO will be celebrating with the composer’s music, of course. This time it’s the exquisite Concerto in D minor for Two Violins. In addition to being a fine example of the Baroque concerto, the work will also showcase the talents of Jaime Laredo and Jennifer Koh.

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prometheus unbound
February 16, 2014

Prometheus is a fascinating mythological figure. His story has been told in numerous versions, with some variations among them, of course. The first known mention of the Titan Prometheus was in an eighth-century B.C. epic poem by Hesiod called, Theogony. The section of the poem dealing with Prometheus lasts only about a hundred lines, but it hits upon a couple of the myth’s main points, namely: 1) Prometheus gives fire to the mortal creatures on earth in defiance of Zeus and the gods; 2) for this transgression, Prometheus is chained to a rock and must daily endure having his liver eaten by an eagle. (This is a daily occurrence because Prometheus is immortal and his liver apparently regenerates every night.) In later versions of the story, it is Prometheus who creates the humans out of clay, with Athena literally breathing life into them. This third aspect of the myth is one that brings new meaning to Prometheus’ theft of fire; if Prometheus brings fire to the humans because he wants to anger Zeus, that’s one thing, but if he gives fire to protect and empower his creations, that’s something else. The gift of fire becomes more poignant in light of Prometheus’ sense of responsibility towards his creations and in terms of his punishment: the hero sacrifices his life and endures torture for the good of his creations.

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papa's got a brand new bag
January 19, 2014

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), perhaps more than almost anyone else, embodied the zeitgeist of the entire Classical period. He came of age just as Classical forms and ensembles were becoming standardized and lived to see those same forms reach their peak. He was part of the patronage system for most of his career, composing in the prominent styles and genres of the time and working creatively within them. His unique position in history allowed him to know both Mozart and Beethoven and to observe (and participate in) the nascent Romantic period in music. It just so happens that the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Haydn will be played on LACO’s next concert, and Haydn’s Sinfonia concertante, which dates from 1792, comes from a time when Haydn was just beginning a new phase in his life and career.

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music with a message
December 19, 2013

Music isn’t a curio that sits on a shelf, untouched by the world. Music’s sole purpose isn’t just to be pretty and entertaining. Music is part of the world, sometimes a reflection of the world as it is, in all of its imperfection. At times, music reflects an ideal vision of the world, as it should be. Sometimes it is a call to arms, a message for the dictators, a beacon of hope for the oppressed.

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beethoven's disney moment
November 10, 2013

LACO’s upcoming concert features a landmark of the Romantic symphony: Beethoven’s Sixth — known as the “Pastoral.” For many music lovers, it is a gorgeous five-movement piece that suggests scenes in the countryside and provides evidence of Beethoven’s burgeoning embrace of programmatic music. For some in the audience, however, it will conjure up images of fauns, unicorns and the gods on Mount Olympus. This is the influence of Walt Disney’s Fantasia.

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happy (almost) birthday, bb!
October 13, 2013

Those of us who study music history have gotten into the habit of calling 1685 an annus mirabilis because both JS Bach and GF Handel (along with Domenico Scarlatti) joined the world in that year. As it turns out, however, there appear to be a couple of these “years of wonders,” and it seems that we are in the hundredth anniversary of one such year. The year 1913 saw the birth of both Witold Lutosławski (January 25) and Benjamin Britten (November 22). It also saw the riotous premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (May 29). Other notable 1913 babies were the bandleader Woody Herman, US presidents Nixon and Ford, athlete and Olympian Jesse Owens and writer Albert Camus. (And, as my mother recently reminded me, my own maternal grandfather would have turned 100 this September.)

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turkish delight
September 17, 2013

A while back, dubstep — a subgenre of electronic dance music whose origins date back to the late 1990s — was all the rage. If you turned on any pop radio station in the middle of this fad, you would have noticed hints of dubstep in many of the songs in heavy rotation. Of course, the version of dubstep that made it into the mainstream was a watered-down version, easily digestible and only tenuously connected to the original music. This kind of musical appropriation happens all the time, and it’s not at all something new.

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movie music magic
May 10, 2013

I have been a great fan of film music for as long as I can remember. There is something magical about going to a theater, getting comfortable in those soft seats, and allowing the sounds and the music of a film to swallow you whole. When I decided to make film music a central topic of my research as a doctoral student, people would ask me all the time about the scores to certain films, especially those that I had recently seen. I can speak for hours about certain scores, and I think of myself as something of a connoisseur, but when I see a film for the first time, I try to de-activate that hyper-critical part of my brain. I want to allow myself to see and hear a film without an agenda. Like everyone else, I want to be transported by film, not fixate on whether the composer used an English horn or an oboe.

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music is who we are
April 13, 2013

Composers have never been able to separate their art from who they are as people, and music has been all the richer because of it. In the nineteenth century especially, art music began to take on national perspectives as composers drew upon the folk songs and dance tunes of their youth to write new music. This continued into the twentieth century. Gustav Mahler, for example, was said to have absorbed the many types of music he heard as a child, finding ways to use these styles in his compositions. He grew up near a military base and heard the marches and trumpet calls there. Mahler also heard traditional klezmer music and explored that in his Symphony No. 1. In the town where Mahler grew up, Iglau, his family owned a tavern, and we must imagine that Mahler heard lots of dance and folk tunes coming from this establishment. Mahler’s music would be very different without these influences.

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"neo" – meaning new
March 21, 2013

Most of us are familiar with the expression, “there is nothing new under the sun.” If you’re an artist, a creator, this is probably an expression you’ve thought about. Do you believe that it’s possible to create something completely new? Or are you content to build on what’s come before?

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the power of music to calm and charm
February 15, 2013

There is a great temptation for us to imagine we know exactly what a composer had in mind when he or she created a piece of music. In looking at the context of composition, it may seem so easy to connect the dots and assume that a musical work has something to do with a particular event that had just happened, or a state of mind, or an emotion. Musicologists are trained to avoid this trap—for the most part, anyway. Sometimes evidence seems compelling, but oftentimes we lack a “smoking gun” that would seal our case. Nevertheless, these are the kinds of things that keep us thinking, debating, questioning. The truth is, we often don’t really know why something gets written. Sure, there are the facts we do know for sure (Mozart wrote his Requiem in response to a commission), and the ones that are very likely (Bach presented the Brandenburg concertos to possibly get a job), but what these men were feeling when they wrote — what they were thinking — is something that remains hidden.

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composers in the movies
January 17, 2013

Mozart and Beethoven were real people, but our perceptions of them are colored by many things: movies like Amadeus and Immortal Beloved; anecdotes about their quirks; paintings and other visual representations; and the meanings we read into their music. A “biopic” about Beethoven,Immortal Beloved (1994) has us imagine Gary Oldman as Beethoven, a temperamental genius whose encroaching deafness and unhappiness makes him angry and difficult. The film takes many liberties with the facts, so much so that musicologist Lewis Lockwood wrote an article about the phenomenon called, “Film Biography as Travesty,” (The Musical Quarterly, 1997). In fact, the film goes as far as to “reveal” the true identity of Beethoven’s Immortal Beloved as pretty much the only woman musicologists can agree was NOT in the running.

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the boys from the boroughs
December 04, 2012

I, your humble blogger, was born in Queens, New York. I grew up there, and went to college in Manhattan, where I lived on twenty-fifth street and first avenue amid a cluster of hospitals and medical centers the residents affectionately called “bedpan alley.” I spent the years afterwards living with roommates in apartments in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Astoria, Queens. Then I moved to Los Angeles to attend USC.

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made especially for you
October 29, 2012

LACO’s upcoming concert on Nov 10 & 11 features a special treat. Award-winning composer Benjamin Wallfisch has composed a violin concerto expressly for our very own assistant concertmaster, Tereza Stanislav. Composing music specifically for a performer is an old and established tradition. Many composers have traditionally been keyboardists (a great number of whom were proficient on other instruments as well), and in both the Classical and Romantic periods, these keyboardists wrote many concertos and sonatas that they composed to show off their own performing talent.

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"listening" to visual art
September 27, 2012

One of the pieces on LACO’s opening concert next weekend is inspired by a sculpture. Andrew Norman’s The Great Swiftness is a musical response to Alexander Calder’s sculpture, La Grande Vitesse, a work created for the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Using music to respond to non-musical things is not a new phenomenon. Music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and has always been a part of human culture, telling stories and teaching history and even imitating real life (birdsong leaps to mind). But music as a response to a painting or a sculpture is a little bit different.

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a family affair
April 15, 2012

Music is often a family business. J.S. Bach wasn’t the first Bach who was a musician, he just ended up being the most famous. And the musical line didn’t end with him; he went on to have a bunch of sons who went on to careers in music. In fact, if you peruse the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, you’ll find that many famous composers were just the most visible member of a family of musicians, composers, pedagogues, or instrument-makers.

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