reflecting on 44 years with LACO

There aren’t many people who can say they’ve been with LACO since the early days, but Allan Vogel is one of them. He joined LACO in 1972, just a few years after LACO’s inaugural performance, and became principal oboe in 1974 – a position he’s held every since. Now, after 44 years with LACO, Allan is prepping for his retirement at this end of this season. Don’t fret! There are still chances to see Allan perform on our stage, including Baroque Conversations 3 at Zipper Concert Hall on Thursday. We asked Allan to reflect on his career and experiences, and, in this interview, he recalls how he came to join LACO, how he avoided embarrassment at the White House, and shares what he’ll miss most.

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LACO: You fell in love with oboe while in high school. What was it about that particular instrument that caught your ear?

Allan Vogel: I love the sound of the instrument. I went to the New York High School for Music and Art, as a voice major, and studied piano too. And I remember walking into the auditorium while the Bach Cantata 140 was being played. It has three oboes, and hearing them sparked something in my adolescent self, and it made me fall in love with the instrument. It took me a year or two to get to play the oboe, and I was really pent up during that time. When I finally started to play the oboe, I played it like crazy and have ever since.

You’ve been with LACO since 1972. How did this come about? Do you remember your initial audition?

Well, it’s an interesting story. I had just come to Los Angeles from New Haven, where I was a student at Yale. I was invited to play at Cafe Figaro, and I played a little recital on a Sunday morning. A contractor from LACO was there, and shortly after I was invited to join the group. Rules were different back then. Auditions now are a very organized kind of thing. In those days it was more of a freelance environment. I started as the second oboe, and at one point I was fired as second oboe – not by the music director, but by the first oboist – and then I was hired back as first oboe and he was fired, and we remained friends the whole time!

What have been some of the exciting changes you’ve witnessed as LACO has grown and evolved over the decades? 

When I started, under [then Music Diector] Neville Marriner, LACO was very small. Two weeks in the fall and two weeks in the spring. And then the seasons developed more and more. We played in the pit for the LA Opera. I never thought I’d play so much opera, but I did. We’ve done tours, and whether it’s to New York or in Europe, they were always exciting.

I’ve worked with five different music directors [Neville Marriner, Gerald Schwarz, Iona Brown, Christof Perick, and Jeffrey Kahane], and each have put their stamp on the orchestra. Jeffrey, of course, is the current music director, and I very much like his stamp. There’s always something very special in the atmosphere of this orchestra, and it comes from the high technical excellence of the musicians, and also a hunger in the community for an orchestra like ours. LACO is very special, and very much like an extended family.

What’s your favorite memory from playing during a state dinner at the White House in 2000?

I remember meeting President Clinton and Hillary. All the musicians had the opportunity to meet them, and it was a lot of fun. The performance was part of a two-day trip on the east coast, and the day before, my tuxedo got damaged. There was a tear in the vest. I was going to wear it on the second day anyway, but I was reminded that we were going to the White House. So I went and rented a tuxedo for the performance, and I’m glad I did, because when I met the President, he put his hand on my shoulder, right where the tear would’ve been!

Let’s talk about your retirement – we’re sad to see you go! Why retire now?

I just celebrated by 72nd birthday, so that’s one thing. Another is… well, I’ve been so obsessed with oboe for so long. It’s an extremely consuming kind of instrument – as much as any other. We oboists jokingly say we all have a ‘Type O personality.’ I’ve done so much with my oboe career, and I could keep doing it, but it seems like the right time to leave some time for other things.

Are you retiring from all aspects of your musical career? Will you continue to teach or record, for example?

I will still teach, and I want to play more piano, explore more of Bach’s works. I haven’t reflected much about the future, because I still have to focus on what I have to play now! I’m still fascinated by the instrument, and it’s my nature to practice daily. I just want to see how things evolve. A little change in my life wouldn’t be bad.

I’ve been teaching at Cal Arts for 45 years, at USC for 20, and at the Colburn School for 10, and I’ve had so many great students. I feel very fulfilled in the students I’ve had and still have. Four or five of my students went on to play for LACO! I’ve benefited in my career from lots of teachers that kept teaching as they got older, so why shouldn’t I keep doing it? I’ll teach and play better if I’m not driving all over the place!

What will you miss most about LACO?

I would say the music making, and my various colleagues, and this includes both current members and the ones that left before me. I was once the youngest member in the orchestra, and now I’m certainly one of the oldest. I’ll miss the audience, as well. We have a wonderful audience that we can really feel a connection with. In fact, I look forward to being in the audience, and hearing what they hear. You don’t hear the proper balance when you’re onstage, because some of the musicians aren’t facing you. I’d like to be in the audience and hear the first violins better!

Any advice for the new LACO principal oboe? They’ll have big shoes to fill!

I would recommend practicing a lot, as I do! But this is unneeded advice – whoever gets the position will surely be practicing a lot already.

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what’s in a cadenza?

One of the most exciting things in music is improvisation. It’s the musical equivalent of watching a tightrope walker go out to do a routine without a net. Some stylistic periods in music valued improvisation, while some valued virtuosity that was not necessarily improvised. The Classical period (approximately 1750 to the early years of the 19th century) put a premium on clean performances, concise rhythm, and clear forms, but not necessarily improvisation. Demonstrations of this skill still impressed audiences, of course. In the Classical period, one of the best places to hear a bit of improvisation was in a concerto. Most of the solo part of a concerto is meticulously written out, but there is one moment where the soloist is alone in the spotlight: the cadenza.

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The cadenza was traditionally an extended improvised section that appeared at a predetermined time at the end of a concerto’s first movement—although it could appear anywhere. If a composer was playing his own piece, as Mozart did with his piano concertos, the cadenza gave him a chance to show off his improvisational skills on top of his compositional skills. If he wasn’t the intended soloist, a composer might have also written out a cadenza to be played by someone else. In his career, Mozart often dashed off these pieces so quickly he barely wrote out his own parts at all, choosing to fill in the blanks after the premiere had passed and the deadline had ceased to loom. These days, the soloists who play Mozart’s concertos often stick closely to the written music—including cadenzas, although that’s not at all a strict rule. In the 20th century, pianist Friedrich Wührer composed cadenzas to three of Mozart’s Piano Concertos, so clearly the field of what to do at the moment of the cadenza is still wide open. LACO’s own Jeffrey Kahane has played and conducted all of Mozart’s Piano Concertos, so if you’re looking for an expert on what to do for the Classical cadenza, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more qualified than him.

The tradition of the cadenza stretches out to the period before Mozart—the Baroque—and of course continues today. J.S. Bach wrote a scintillating cadenza for the harpsichord in his Fifth Brandenburg Concerto. Beethoven often wrote his own cadenzas to previously existing pieces, even notating his own cadenza for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 (on our program). And it should be noted that Beethoven wasn’t really interested in other soloists adding their own personal touches to his work; in his “Emperor” Concerto, Beethoven makes his own written-out cadenza a demand, not a request. There are vocal cadenzas in the 19th-century operas of Rossini and Bellini. There are two cadenzas in the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto, No. 1. Johannes Brahms, who was not a virtuoso violinist, allowed his friend Joseph Joachim—friend and dedicatee—to write the cadenza for his Violin Concerto. The cadenza provides an opportunity for a composer to write something fun and exciting outside of the structure of the main piece, but also gives the soloist a moment to shine all alone. When the composer and soloist were one and the same, like Mozart was or Beethoven (early in his career), this was advantageous. The cadenza was a way to show off not just the creative endurance to write a long-form piece like a concerto, but also to showcase your own daring, your improvisational skills, your resourcefulness, inventiveness. It was the tightrope without a net. There’s still a bit of that thrill in live performance, whether improvised or not. That’s why we still play this music in live concerts, hundreds of years after it was created: to recapture that thrill of being “in the moment.”

LACO’s upcoming concert features two concertos by Mozart, one for Clarinet and one for Piano (No. 20). As I mentioned, Jeffrey Kahane will be leading Piano Concerto No. 20 from the solo instrument, and our very own Joshua Ranz will be the soloist for Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. LACO’s latest also features the world premiere of a new work, Gernot Wolfgang’s Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds. Wolfgang is a native Austrian like his program-mate, Mozart. This upcoming concert will be a great opportunity to hear music that is established, admired, and classic, and—with the premiere of Gernot Wolfgang’s Sinfonia— something entirely new. The performances ahead are bound to be a wonderful reminder of the excitement of live performance and the pure joy of the musical experience.

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sinfonia concertante for four winds – “The D.A.R.K. Knights”

Early in 2015 LACO offered me a commission to write a Sinfonia Concertante that would feature the long-serving LACO principal wind players David Shostac (flute), Allan Vogel (oboe), Richard Todd (horn) and Kenneth Munday (bassoon). Naturally I accepted and was thrilled about the opportunity, especially since I would be writing for fabulous soloists with whose playing and instrumental sounds I had become familiar over the years!

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After a few days of ruminating on how to approach the composition I decided to take the Sinfonia Concertante concept one step further and additionally highlight the four soloists by giving each of them a mini concerto within the piece. The composition’s full title was the result of serendipity – I’ll let you figure out what it means!

Once I started writing it quickly became clear that the piece would be in one movement, and that the Sinfonia Concertante sections would take care of establishing its main thematic material and general harmonic environment. Also, these would be the more energetic parts of the composition and they would bookmark the four mini concertos, which in turn would represent the more lyrical aspects of the piece. I liked the idea of introducing the soloists via a main theme that would be played in unison by all of them, each in a different octave.

Then, out of the blue, a “fifth element” revealed itself. I had never included a drum set in my concert pieces before, but instantly felt that this would be the right occasion to do so. As it turned out, the drums fulfill several distinct functions within the composition – to support motoric string section rhythms, to independently generate grooves behind atmospheric orchestral textures, and also to venture into the world of free jazz by complimenting some passages with improvised, and not necessarily synchronized gestures.

But back to our four soloists. In the outer, Sinfonia Concertante segments they are featured in above-mentioned thematic multi-octave unison passages, in duos (flute-oboe and horn-bassoon), as well as in brief individual solos. Acknowledging the jazz background of flutist David Shostac and hornist Richard Todd, they both have the opportunity of improvising some of their solos, if they choose to do so (written-out alternate solos are notated in the score).

In the four lyrical mini-concertos I wanted to create unique, personal sonic environments for each of the soloists. The principal source of inspiration for these was each musician’s distinct instrumental sound. Musically, the mini-concertos are related to each other through an introductory chord progression established by the strings, and through textural orchestral material already introduced during the opening Sinfonia Concertante segment.

It is always a treat for a composer to be able to write for excellent soloists whom you have heard perform many times, and whom you know on a personal level. Also, having previously worked with LACO and attended many of the orchestra’s concerts, I am familiar with the unique, refined sound of the ensemble as a whole. Now I can imagine maybe a little bit how Haydn must have felt.

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the circle of life: time is a flat circle or what goes around, comes around…

Last night’s program at Royce Hall was an interesting one for me. I heard sublime music. The listening experience was delightful. I do not know why every performance by this wonderful orchestra isn’t completely sold out. They are A MAZ ING. Los Angelenos need to get a clue…

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Faure’s Pavane ebbs and flows in a series of lovely harmonic and melodic climaxes. For me, it’s reminiscent of Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’. It brings to mind a person remembering earlier days of adventure and travel (it has a hint of the exotic in it). It also reminds me of the lyric from Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’, “Son, can you play me a memory, I’m not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes.” It is sad and sweet. And short, an amuse-bouche, but for the ears (amuse-les oreilles?).

Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 2 follows on this theme in terms of returning to one’s past. This piece is impressive to me in its construction and was expertly executed, but I am not as moved by this style of music and so the story of this piece is more interesting to me than the piece itself. Schoenberg began work on this Symphony in 1906, put it away and brought it out again a few times and finally let it rest, unfinished in 1916. He returned to complete the work 33 years later subsequent to a request from conductor Fritz Stiedry, who asked him for an orchestral piece for his New Friends of Music Orchestra in New York. Schoenberg wrote to Stiedry, “For a month I have been working on the Second Chamber Symphony. I spend most of the time trying to find out ‘What was the author getting at here? Indeed, my style has greatly deepened meanwhile, and I find it hard to reconcile what I then rightly wrote, trusting my sense of form and not thinking too much, with my current extensive demands in respect of ‘visible’ logic. Today that is one of the major difficulties, for it also affects the material.” I don’t know if his return to this piece was sentimental, but it is interesting to observe the return to tonality in his later years. Small and unrelated bit of trivia for y’all: Arnold had triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13).

In my opinion, Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye was the musical high point of the evening. Ravel’s music is often described as exquisite, and this orchestral version of Mother Goose is certainly that. It‘s full of subtle details and wildly varying combinations of sounds. I am pretty sure I heard every sound that each of the instruments is capable of making in this one piece! There was screeching and plucking and tapping and delicacy and the lowest of the lows to the highest of the highs. It is unique and authentic and, I believe, reveals something of Ravel’s basic nature: playful, seeking, articulate and adventurous. Again, another reflection on the theme of remembrance, childhood and things past.

In comparison with his 7th and 9th, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93 is much lighter and good humored. It continued the night’s trend of remembrance of things past, retreating to a classical style as he did in his even-numbered symphonies. It is buoyant and witty (the first and last measures of the 1st movement are the same), the minuet contains false downbeats and his “little Symphony in F” concludes with a long and charismatic coda. Because Beethoven, right?

All of this beautiful music was brought to us through a marvelous collaboration between the orchestra and their guest conductor, Matthew Pintscher. Maestro Pintscher is a busy guy. He’s director of Ensemble Intercontemporain, is formally associated with the BBC Scottish Symphony and the Danish National Symphony and is the newly appointed principal conductor of the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra. He also teaches composition at the Juilliard School in New York. He’s really good. LACO is really good and they were really good together. The sound he draws from the orchestra is clean and precise, like a fine point pen, but it’s also full and emotionally lush. He gave them his full attention and they gave him theirs. Shades of things to come? We shall have to wait and see. As I said, he’s a very busy guy.

The only thing I missed in this performance was Maestro Kahane’s commentary. Being a musical “newbie”, I really enjoy his contextualization of the pieces. The “signposts” he provides during his comments, help me draw more from the performances and I come away feeling enriched in my understanding of the music and curious to know more. I look forward to hearing more from him when he returns next month.

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five facts about fauré

He may not get top billing at LACO’s ravel & beethoven concert this weekend – that honor, oddly enough, goes to Ravel and Beethoven – but Gabriel Fauré will still be an integral part of the program, with his Pavane, Op. 50 kicking off an evening of beautiful music. (Get your tickets here!) While Fauré (1845-1924) may not be a household name, he’s considered a highly influential French composer, and an important bridge between the music of the 19th and 20th centuries. Here are five more facts about George Fauré to whet your appetite before the concert this weekend:

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1) He Wasn’t A Child Prodigy. Fauré was born in a small village in southern France, into a family that wasn’t very musical. He loved music from a very early age, although he admits that, at the beginning, he wasn’t very talented: “I grew up, a rather quiet, well-behaved child, in an area of great beauty. But the only thing I remember really clearly is the harmonium in that little chapel. Every time I could get away I ran there…I played atrociously…but I do remember that I was happy.”

2) How Organists Cut Loose. Fauré spent decades working at churches as an organist or choirmaster, and supplementing his income by giving piano lessons. In 1871, he was working at the Église Saint-Sulpice in Paris, alongside organist Charles-Marie Widor. Fauré and Widor would occasionally have some fun during the services – they would simultaneously improvise, each playing one of the church’s two organs, and try to throw each other off by suddenly changing keys.

3) He Only Composed For A Few Months A Year. Because of the weekly demands of his church work and private students, Fauré didn’t have the time to work on his own compositions. So he composed during this summer breaks. The one opera he wrote, called “Pénélope,” took him five summers.

4) Fidelity Wasn’t a Strong Suit. Fauré was married to Marie Fremiet, and they had two sons. But the marriage was strained, and he and Marie had different interests. They grew apart over time, eventually communicating only by mail. Fauré had a succession of mistresses, including Emma Bardac (who, at the time, was married to a banker; she would later marry Claude Debussy). Fauré’s well-known Dolly Suite for two pianos was dedicated to Bardac’s young daughter, leading some to believe that Faure was actually the girl’s father.

5) A Famous Teacher and a Famous Student. Fauré studied under Camille Saint-Saëns as a teenager, and considered him to be a lifelong friend and mentor. One of Fauré’s students in the early 1890s was another man who became a famous composer: Maurice Ravel.

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ravel, the composer

There are many personal anecdotes about composers and artists with loud voices, raucous laughs, controversial opinions or hot tempers. Big personalities tend to stick in the memory. For a composer like Ravel, however, personality is overshadowed by music, which isn’t a bad thing, of course. It just means that he left the drama to his music, although he still stirred up controversy now and then (whether he meant to or not). Ravel’s Ma mère l’oye appears on LACO’s upcoming concert. He wrote it as a piano duet for children, but later orchestrated it for a chamber ensemble.

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Ravel was born in the Basque region of France, very close to the border of Spain. Ravel’s father taught him all about engineering and music, and his mother sang him folk songs that influenced his compositional style. Another great influence was the Paris Exposition that took place in 1889. Ravel was fourteen at the time, and he heard works by Rimsky-Korsakov, a member of the Russian nationalists, The Mighty Five. Claude Debussy also attended the Paris Exposition, where he heard the Javanese gamelan, an important influence in his developing style. Of course, he was a bit older than Ravel, but the two became acquaintances in the 1890s.

Ravel was accepted into the Conservatoire de Paris in late 1889. He grew very much as an artist there, but did not conform well to the conservative ways of the institution. Ravel had a unique learning style, having been mostly educated by his father (we don’t have records of formal schooling in his youth). Because he was not the kind of student favored by the Conservatoire at the time, he was encouraged to leave in 1895. He left, choosing to focus on writing music in his own way. While out of school, he met Erik Satie and found Satie’s musical philosophy very influential on his own style. In 1897, Ravel returned to the Conservatoire and met Gabriel Fauré, who would become his teacher and a great source of support. Ravel never quite fit in at the Conservatoire, but his relationship with Fauré remained strong. Ravel seemed unbothered by most people’s opinions, and was unperturbed by unfavorable reviews.

After 1900, Ravel got involved with a group of other artists. They formed a club and called themselves Les Apaches. It was what we might call an artistic collective today, with writers, composers, and visual artists all working with each other, cross-pollinating each other’s work, and offering support and encouragement. Les Apaches were very supportive of the work of Debussy, who was not a member, but represented to them an individuality of spirit that spoke to their ideals. Les Apaches formed an enthusiastic faction in the audience of Debussy’s controversial opera, Pelléas et Mélisande. Ravel reportedly attended all fourteen performances.

Ravel and Debussy began to get categorized together as Impressionist composers. The term itself was meant in a derogatory way when it was coined. Debussy did not like the descriptor, and although Ravel did not mind it, he also felt it was not a fair label for his music. Ravel was more preoccupied with forms and structures, while Debussy’s compositional style was more open and free. The friendship between the two composers, always cool, ended in the early years of the twentieth century, for a few different reasons. Their relationship was not helped by the desire of the public, who seemed to think they must choose an allegiance to one or the other.

Years earlier, Debussy had won one of composition’s most coveted prizes, the Prix de Rome. Ravel also set his sights on winning, but came up short all five times he entered the competition. The closest he came to winning was second place (on his second attempt). In his final attempt, in 1905, 30 year old Ravel entered a piece, which was eliminated in the first round. This early dismissal caused a scandal, nicknamed L’affaire Ravel. Even critics who weren’t fans of Ravel’s music thought the first round elimination was unfair, especially when the facts emerged of whose music made it through; a professor on the jury, Charles Lenepveu, taught at the Conservatoire, and the finalists for the Prize all happened to be his students. L’affaire Ravel encouraged sweeping reforms at the Conservatoire. Lenepveu and Théodore Dubois (director of the school and definitely not a fan of Ravel) retired under pressure. Dubois’ replacement? Ravel supporter and teacher Gabriel Fauré—whose Pavane also appears on LACO’s upcoming concert.

Throughout all of the controversy, Ravel kept writing. He was exacting in his work, so he did not produce a large number of pieces. But the work he did complete was beautifully and finely crafted. He was brilliant at orchestrating piano music, his own and that of others, and he was preoccupied with this in the early part of the 1900s. It was in 1910 that Ravel composed his piano piece Ma mère l’oye (“Mother Goose”), and it was a year later that he orchestrated this work.

There is, of course, more to Ravel’s story, but here’s where we’ll leave him for now. He lived for another twenty-five years after Ma mère l’oye, and composed for 20 of those years. His influences grew and his style developed, but there are still many mysteries about his personal life. Even when he became famous, he shook off the adulation, reasoning that neither praise nor bad reviews meant much. He was the picture of calm indifference. Perhaps this is a trait that many artists and composers would like to have—especially when reviews are unfavorable—but it doesn’t make for good press. Perhaps we feel a little distant emotionally from Ravel the man. Anger, passion, frustration—we can see ourselves in that. We can’t see ourselves in his ability to take criticism and praise with the same neutral expression. He saved all of his emotion for his music, and perhaps this is where we feel closest to him.

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if it’s baroque, don’t fix it

I love the Baroque Era in music and art. It’s always exquisitely rendered, with a staggering amount of complexity. It’s beautiful and satisfying and diverting. Because of its essential playfulness, I have a bit of difficulty taking it seriously, so I was very interested in what I would learn from Maestro Kahane about JS Bach’s Cantata No. 140 “Sleepers Awake,” at this past Saturday’s Discover Concert in Pasadena.

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Jeffrey Kahane first explained the Cantata was written for the last Sunday in the ecclesiastical year, which calls for giving thought to the second advent of Christ. The spoken sermon for this date would be taken from the parable of the ten virgins waiting for the arrival of “the bridegroom”. The Cantata is a celebration of the “soul’s impending union with its Saviour”. Kind of heavy stuff, right? He also broke down the structure of the piece, giving vocal and instrumental examples of recurring themes and motifs so we would have a better understanding of the import and meaning of what we were hearing when, after intermission, the entire Cantata was performed flawlessly by the Orchestra, the USC Thornton Chamber Singers, the LA Children’s Chorus and soloists Kathryn Mueller (soprano), Colin Ainsworth (tenor) and Andrew Craig Brown (bass). We were also provided with a translation into English of the German lyrics, which was great as it allowed me to connect with the story (with which I was unfamiliar).

Kahane also gave us some examples of current events that personally connected him to the sentiments of Bach’s Cantatas. They were beautifully bittersweet true tales of unconditional love and unreserved sacrifice for one’s fellow humans and they made me cry, at both the inhuman cruelty of the situations that led to the sacrifice and the power of true brotherly (sisterly) love. Even though the individuals involved made the ultimate sacrifice, their stories gave me hope that the “best” in us will prevail overall. I felt the examples were much more connected to the passion and crucifixion of Jesus, rather than the resurrection or the Second Advent, but I got the general connection he was making. I enjoyed very much receiving insight into Kahane’s intellectual and emotional process when preparing to present a piece to the public.

One of the coolest things about Bach’s creative gifts was his ability to conjure up seemingly endless, expressive melodies within the symmetry of two chorale fantasias and a four-part closing chorale, which framed two sequences of recitative and aria. Another thing I liked was how he jumped in with both feet and gave us not one, but two duets with slightly over the top romance-y, almost bedchamber entendres (“I am yours, – love will never part us. I will with you – you will with me – graze among heaven’s roses, where complete pleasure and delight will be.”) that seemed designed to make everyone fidget a bit. It very effectively brought home the human experience of a passionate readiness to accept Christ into the physical body as well as the heart and soul. It was shameless. Bach was a Cantata original gangster.

A final comment – the audience was invited to sing along with the last chorale after the performance. More audience fidgeting, but I thought it was a nice touch. All in all, an enlightening evening.

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the best of bach

Think of a task you have to complete weekly. Perhaps it’s a report you have to generate for work, or something you have to do around the house. Now imagine that your weekly duties involve the performance of a musical piece complete with solo songs, instrumental interludes, and a chorus at the end. Imagine that you must compose this music, find the musicians to perform it, and run the rehearsals. This is the type of thing that Johann Sebastian Bach did weekly when he worked at the St. Thomas Church in Leipzig after he took over the position of Kantor in 1723.

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The job was a prestigious one, which was likely why Bach felt it so important to move his growing family from Cöthen to Leipzig. It was the most challenging position he had taken thus far in his life, having worked at Cöthen, Weimar, Mühlhausen, and Arnstadt before this. Some of the advantages of working as Kantor for the church included working in a small yet robust city with a stable local government, and good educational opportunities for Bach’s own children. But he was expected to do a lot in exchange for this stability. Bach was in charge of providing music for the four churches in the area: St. Thomas, St. Nicholas, St. Matthew, and St. Peter. The cantata was a staple of the Lutheran service, and it was Bach’s duty to make sure one was ready for each Sunday service and also for holy days throughout the year. Bach could have performed some already existing cantatas, but preferred to write his own. He also had the opportunity to use singers and musicians that he himself had trained at the St. Thomas School.

The German cantata, not to be confused with the Italian cantata — which was a secular genre — has no set ensemble, but instead may feature a single soloist and continuo, a small group of soloists both vocal and instrumental, or even soloists and choir. Just as there is no set ensemble for a cantata, there is also no set formula.

Some of Bach’s larger church cantatas begin with a choral movement accompanied by the entire ensemble. Some of the smaller cantatas feature recitatives and arias sung by the soloist(s). There are two types of recitatives. The first type, called “secco” or “dry,” features the voice accompanied by only the continuo instruments. A recitative of this type has a rather thin texture, but the collaboration of soloist and continuo allows for more rhythmic flexibility in the vocal line. The other type of recitative is called “accompagnato” or “accompanied” because instruments of the orchestra support the voice. There is little rhythmic flexibility, but the texture of the music is fuller and thicker. In Bach cantatas, recitatives are usually paired with arias, florid song-like pieces. In each pair, the recitative often has more lines of text but is shorter in duration, while the aria tends to be longer despite its briefer text. Florid passages in the vocal line and repetitive phrases and sections account for this.

There is evidence to suggest Bach may have written five complete year-long cycles of cantatas, one for every Sunday. Unfortunately, only about 200 cantatas survive, but these cantatas are some of Bach’s most famous works. LACO’s upcoming Discover concert will take a closer look at one of the most famous cantatas from this collection, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140. While employed at St. Thomas Church, Bach also wrote secular music for the Collegium musicum, a group of amateur musicians who attended the University in Leipzig. Among these works are some secular cantatas, the most famous being the Coffee Cantata. (Bach, a very productive composer, loved his coffee!) Historical sources say Bach may have written as many as forty of these secular cantatas, however, only about twenty survive.

The popular genre during the High Baroque period was the opera, but Bach composed none. He had a particular talent for writing vocal music, however, and the cantata provided him a chance to write vocal music that was both dramatic and narrative. If you have the opportunity to attend this concert, and learn more about Cantata 140, I hope you appreciate the kind of work that went into this kind of piece, and how fortunate we are that this work, and so many survived.

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looking back & moving forward

With so much to look forward to at LACO in the New Year, I want to share some highlights from the last 12 months:

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LACO’s performances throughout 2015 received enthusiastic audience and critical acclaim, from The LA Times noting that “the ensemble is in excellent shape,” to’s rave, “this is why we go to live concerts.”

• LACO musicians traveled to the historic Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara on May 10 for a performance that culminated in a standing ovation. With music director Jeffrey Kahane play-conducting Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, the Orchestra’s performance was touted as “exhilarating” and “stunning” by CASA Magazine.

LACO @ the Movies, in collaboration with Walt Disney Animation Studios, drew a sold-out house to the glamorous Theatre at Ace Hotel in June. The Orchestra synchronized live performance with short films featuring Mickey Mouse, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and a special tribute in honor of the 75th anniversary of Fantasia.

Over 2,500 children from the greater Los Angeles area attended LACO’s Meet the Music concerts at Zipper Hall at The Colburn School, free of charge, this year. LACO education artists-in-residence wild Up, a ground-breaking experimental ensemble based in LA, joined LACO for the October performances for hundreds of LAUSD and PUSD students. wild Up’s recent performance in New York was recognized in The New York Times’ Best Classical 2015 list – wonderful recognition for our education partners.


LACO delivered world-class orchestral music to a wider audience through a multitude of radio broadcasts, including 25 broadcasts nationally through “Performance Today” and a seven-week residency on Sunday evenings with Classical KUSC.

In November, LACO partnered with the USC Thornton School of Music to provide current music students the opportunity to play assigned orchestral excerpts behind a screen for a panel of musicians. The two winners of the LACO-USC Thornton Strings Mentorship Program Mock Auditions, violinists Joanna Lee and Philip Marten, will perform in two LACO performances in May 2016. We continue to develop new partnerships across Los Angeles and nurture our ongoing strong partnerships with the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, Glendale Arts at The Alex Theatre and The Colburn School.

LACO performed five premieres in 2015, including three stunning world premieres and two West Coast premieres: Andrew Norman’s Frank’s House (world premiere), Joseph Hallman’s imagined landscapes (West Coast premiere), Ted Hearne’s Respirator (world premiere, LACO Sound Investment commission), Derrick Spiva’s Prisms, Cycles, Leaps (world premiere) and Timo Andres’ Word of Mouth (West Coast premiere).

On December 10, LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane appeared with the New York Philharmonic as a piano soloist in the world premiere of LACO composer-in-residence Andrew Norman’s composition Split. Their collaboration has been nurtured at LACO, making the rave reviews from the media a point of pride for all of us. The New York Times called Split “audacious, exhilarating and, in a way, exhausting,” because of the amazing frenetic energy of the piece and Jeffrey’s spirited performance. Moreover, Andrew and two 2015-16 season guest artists, Cho-Liang Lin and Marc-André Hamelin, received well-deserved GRAMMY nominations in December.


With these exciting events of 2015 as our springboard, I am confident that 2016 will bring more thrilling performances, wide-reaching community engagement opportunities and so much more. Stay tuned!

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the agony, the ecstasy and beethoven

I woke up on Monday morning to the sound of the sweetest violin music coming from my living room. My husband, who attended Sunday’s performance of ‘Beethoven & Mendelssohn’ with me, was watching YouTube videos of Simone Porter, the young violinist who “filled in” at the last moment for the scheduled soloist, Stefan Jackiw. He was muttering to himself as he watched and listened to her play, “She’s just a kid, she’s so young…” and if you were there on Saturday or Sunday, you know exactly what he means. She’s 19. Minds were blown.

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The program, in its entirety, was a trip backwards in time. We began in 1939 with Bela Bartok’s Neo-Classical Divertimento. Peter Oundjian (the guest conductor), who has a very pleasing and charming demeanor, gave us a bit of back story for this piece and I really appreciated having a context through which to view it. Now, my daughter tells me that the word ‘divertimento’ means a piece designed for the entertainment of the performers and the audience. While I was very involved in the performance of this piece, entertained isn’t the word I would use. It was both lush and pointedly angular in sound and very well executed. It was so sad though! I felt like it was an ode to Hungary (his home country, which he left just a year later, never to return). It was angry, grief-stricken and nostalgic, rich and dark. It struck me as the musical version of a man coming to terms with the fact that a long term relationship with someone that he loves very much has changed for the worse and there is no way to fix it. It’s an orchestral break up letter….

Next, we travelled back 100 years for Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor featuring this prodigy, this wunderkind who made her professional solo debut at age 10 with the Seattle Symphony and her international debut with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at age 13, Simone Porter. Since seeing her on Sunday, I’ve read lots about her as an “emerging” or a “future” star. Nope. She’s here, baby, and ready to roll. Her exposition is virtuosic and she handles the most explicitly written cadenzas as if they were born in her. I cannot even imagine the depth and breadth that her playing will have in ten years. Add to this, Kenneth Munday’s entreating and emotional solo passage for bassoon, which opens the Andante and the orchestra bringing their unerring accompaniment to the very fast and clean passages in the third movement and you have us on our feet once more, LACO. Now this was diverting!

To send us on our way totally satisfied, our dessert was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4. Not one with which I am familiar, but it expresses the same vital force and joy of life that I have come to expect from dear Ludwig. It is fresh and spontaneous, contains no tragedy and its form approaches perfection. I’m guessing that it’s often overlooked because it follows his watershed symphonic ideal, No. 3, and is surrounded by so many other wonderful works: the “Appassionata” Sonata, Op. 57, the three Razumovsky Quartets, Op. 59, the opera Fidelio, Op. 72, Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 58, and the Violin Concerto, Op. 61, all of which were created in a similar timeframe. I just love Beethoven’s expansiveness and the finale is a brilliant exercise, contrasting convention and his freewheeling Boom Boom Booms (you know what I mean). It doesn’t call attention to itself like some of the more famous Beethoven finales, but it brings this symphony to a perfect conclusion.

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