my summer at LACO

Having played the violin for 15 years, music has always been front and center in my life. Starting out with the keyboard, I personally decided at five years old that it simply wasn’t for me. Instead, I chose the violin and switched to a life of standing and finger calluses. And now, as a rising senior at Scripps College, I’m happy to say that I now sit down in secret while practicing in the music rooms. But in all sincerity, music truly has been a great part of my life and a part that I can’t imagine living without. It has taught me patience, understanding and diligence — traits that I have certainly needed and called upon both as a student and an intern. While I have decided not to pursue a career in music, I always hope to continue playing the violin and joining music ensembles that give back to the music-making community.

read more →As LACO’s new marketing intern for the 2015 summer, I’ve been given a behind-the-scenes tour of the music-making process. While many only see the stage and performers, I’m able to experience how concerts come to being. From assembling program books to organizing tickets for will-call, I look forward to being a part of an organization that really does bring great music to the Los Angeles arts community. In the future, I hope I will be able to continue participating in the arts, whether it be with my violin or with an incredible music organization like LACO. ↑ less ↑

return to the roots – Get A Horse!

The production of animated shorts began to decline in mid 1950s. You can actually see a direct correlation to the penetration of televisions into households. The days of going to the movies and seeing a newsreel, a couple of shorts, maybe a serial short subject and the feature presentation were over. Movie theaters started experimenting with wide-screen formats and 3D to counter the appeal of TV.

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Shorts didn’t disappear completely at Disney but their number diminished substantially. Today, shorts are used as a training ground for new talent and to experiment with new techniques. In 2013, the Walt Disney Animation Studios created an innovative new short called Get A Horse! It is a contemporary homage to the first animated shorts featuring Mickey Mouse, with all-new, black-and-white, hand-drawn animation paired with full-color, 3D, and CG filmmaking—in the same frame. Mickey, his favorite gal pal Minnie Mouse, and their friends Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow delight in a musical hay-wagon ride—until Peg-Leg Pete shows up and tries to run them off the road with his car. This groundbreaking short takes a sharp turn when Mickey finds himself separated from Minnie and must use every trick up his sleeve to find his way back to her. Directed by Lauren MacMullan and produced by Dorothy McKim, Get A Horse! had its world premiere at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France on June 11, 2013, and was subsequently featured at the Telluride Film Festival and the D23 Expo before opening in theaters in front of Frozen on Nov. 27, 2013.

Get A Horse! is Mickey Mouse’s first new animated short for theaters since the Oscar-nominated Runaway Brain was released in 1995. Adding to the uniqueness of this latest big screen offering is the fact that Walt Disney himself ― the original voice of Mickey Mouse ― provides all of Mickey’s dialogue. The film’s editorial team meticulously combed through every vintage short in which Walt voiced Mickey to find each and every word of Mickey’s dialogue. Although the film uses a minimum of dialogue, the story was crafted to take full advantage of Walt’s performance. The short marks Walt Disney’s first voice credit in more than 58 years.

Serving as heads of animation for Get A Horse! were acclaimed hand-drawn animator/director Eric Goldberg (Aladdin, Pocahontas) and CG animator Adam Green (Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Paperman). Multiple Emmy®-winning composer Mark Watters (Goof Troop, Cars Toons: Mater’s Tall Tales) provided the film’s jaunty score, which includes the rarely-heard ocarina instrument to lend a period authenticity.

By David A. Bossert
Producer/Creative Director
Walt Disney Animation Studios

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from Oswald to Mickey

What many people do not know is that Plane Crazy (1929) was actually the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, produced in early 1928. The short was inspired by aviator Charles Lindbergh and his aeronautical accomplishments including the first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May 1927. After that historic flight, Lindbergh was lauded as a national, if not global, hero.

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When Plane Crazy was completed and test screened silent in May of 1928, the short failed to get a distributor. Later that year Disney released Steamboat Willie, the second Mickey Mouse cartoon, with synchronized sound and it was a resounding success. He would add sound to Plane Crazy and release that cartoon in early 1929.

As Mickey Mouse gained in popularity, the Disney Studios prospered by turning out a steady stream of shorts which played in theatres around the globe. Carl Stalling, the first music director for Disney, pitched the idea of creating animated shorts set to pieces of music. These were stand-alone shorts that did not feature any established characters and were often used to experiment with special effects and camera techniques. The series proved to be very popular, and the studio produced seventy-five Silly Symphony shorts between 1929 and 1939.

Musicland, which was released eighty years ago in 1935, epitomizes this idea of crafting stories around pieces of music. This short revolves around a romance between a princess and prince, which causes a war between the Land of Symphony and the Isle of Jazz. It is a take on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet as only Disney could do in animation.

All of the characters and architecture are derived from musical instruments. It showcases the inventiveness of the artists to craft an entire world around elements found in music, including sheet music and music notes. The filmmakers use the score to create the character dialogue as well as the sound effects for the action.

By David A. Bossert
Producer/Creative Director
Walt Disney Animation Studios
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the birth of Oswald the lucky rabbit

It was more than ninety years ago in 1923 that Walter E. and Roy O. Disney founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio in their uncle’s garage in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles. In early 1924, they would quickly get a distribution deal through Winkler Pictures to distribute their Alice Comedies which were a live action/animation combination that initially starred a young Virginia Davis.

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The Alice Comedies popularity, though, started to wane by 1927. The films were becoming too costly and Walt decided to stop production. He and his top animator Ub Iwerks were encouraged by their distributor Winkler Pictures producer Charles Mintz to create the all-animated Oswald the Lucky Rabbit shorts. Mintz felt that the animated characters in the Alice series were more popular than the live action. These new Oswald cartoons were to be distributed by Winkler Pictures.

Poor Papa was the first Oswald cartoon, made in 1927 at the Disney Bros. Studios. However, producer Charles Mintz rejected it because he felt Oswald looked too old. Walt corrected the issue and the second Oswald cartoon, Trolley Troubles, was accepted and released to theaters. Oswald went on to be the first major success for the Disney brothers and Poor Papa was eventually released in 1928 as Oswald grew in popularity.

Africa Before Dark, released in 1928, is the thirteenth Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short. In our search for the lost Oswald cartoons, this print surfaced at the Austrian Film Museum as a 35mm nitrate film with German titles. With their cooperation we were able to secure high resolution scans of that film which then received a digital restoration and preservation so that it will be enjoyed at LACO @ The Movies and well into the future.

By David A. Bossert
Producer/Creative Director
Walt Disney Animation Studios

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a tale of two prodigies

Mozart and Mendelssohn had a couple of things in common: they were both child prodigies, they were both influenced by their older sisters, and they both died much too young. Another thing they have in common is their appearance on LACO’s upcoming concert. We will hear excerpts from Mendelssohn’s incidental music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the “Italian” Symphony, and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. Mozart was born in 1756 and Mendelssohn in 1809. Although their lives were separated by more than half a century, their styles shared some similarities. Mendelssohn knew the work of Mozart quite well, in fact. Despite being a contemporary of Beethoven and Chopin, much of Mendelssohn’s work hearkened back to the clarity of the Classical period and the counterpoint of the Baroque.

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When Felix Mendelssohn was a small boy, he showed an affinity for music. He was composing and studying the works of the old masters at an age when most kids are playing games and trying to avoid homework. His first piano teacher was his mother. When he was ten years old, he began learning the counterpoint of Mozart and Bach from composer and conductor, Friedrich Zelter. Felix’s early works reflected these influences. His works (and those of the masters) were mostly performed at salons and soirees thrown by the Mendelssohn family. Some of the most important poets, musicians, and composers of the day attended these gatherings. Young Felix’s well-rounded upbringing included travel, education in general subjects and the classics. His family was mostly supportive of his interest in music, and the circumstances of his upbringing couldn’t have been more conducive to his creativity. He was allowed to paint or compose or write poetry as he desired; important people came to the Mendelssohn house, and it was soon clear that Felix (and sister Fanny as well) were especially gifted.

Young Wolfgang Mozart showed musical talent from the time he was a young boy as well, and it was fortunate that his family both had the resources to nurture his gift and the desire to do it. But Mozart, unlike Mendelssohn, did not have the luxury of developing at his own pace in a relaxed environment. Mozart’s father, Leopold, who was himself a musician, wasn’t always the gentlest stage father, but he recognized Wolfgang’s gift early, and he was adamant about not squandering it. Leopold took his children (including Wolfgang’s older sister Nannerl) on musical tours, where they played for nobles and royalty. Although it might have seemed they were living a glamorous life, their times on the road were sometimes quite trying. The pressure on Mozart to perform in these circumstances must have been enormous, but he always played well and impressed those they visited.

Neither of these child prodigies lived to the age of forty. Mozart died before his thirty-sixth birthday, and Mendelssohn was thirty-eight when he died. Yet in their relatively short lives, both men wrote lots of music. Mozart was especially prolific because he was so quick in his writing process.

Because of popular culture, including the movie Amadeus, many people are more familiar with Mozart than they are with Mendelssohn. I’m sure there are some who assume that Mozart was the greater genius because he has the Academy Award-winning biopic. I’m not here to take sides, but I think it’s worth noting that—all music aside—Mozart was by far the more colorful character. With his musical talent juxtaposed with his scatological sense of humor and his sometimes inappropriate behavior, he would leap off the screen in a way that Mendelssohn—who is described as much more genteel—could not.

Still, when Mendelssohn was about twelve, his teacher, Zelter, introduced the young boy to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The elderly poet and novelist was quite impressed with young Felix’s abilities, especially in the realm of improvising and playing music at sight. Because Goethe had heard Mozart play when he was a child, Zelter asked him if the talents of the young prodigies were comparable. Goethe’s famous response was:

“I was certainly, like all the rest of the world, immensely astonished at [Mozart’s] extraordinary execution; but what your pupil already accomplishes, bears the same relation to the Mozart of that time that the cultivated talk of a grown-up person bears to the prattle of a child.”

Which one was the greater prodigy? Such a thing is impossible to measure. I suppose what matters is that Mozart and Mendelssohn’s music endures through our own time and beyond.

In addition to featuring the music of two former child prodigies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, LACO’s upcoming concert will premiere an entirely new work by Ted Hearne. Hearne’s work, Respirator, is this year’s Sound Investment Commission. I’ve not had the opportunity to hear this piece yet, but I am very excited about it. Hearne is an award-winning composer who shows great innovation and a wonderful collaborative spirit. There’s something very special about seeing old favorites like Mozart and Mendelssohn alongside world premieres. Programs such as these tend to encourage us to hear the old music in a new way, and to place new works into a larger historical context. It’s sure to be a spectacular evening.

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high on handel (chapter three)

Chapter Three

YouTube leads its own life: once a video is posted, you don’t have much control over who watches it and how far it reaches. I had posted “Handel hits the Road” and “Handel At Home” and thought it already was quite an adventure. I could not suspect what would happen next.

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I was traveling to São Paulo, Brazil for a concert during a festival called Virada Cultural: a one-day festival with many stages and different art forms. The plan was to play a normal concert on a standard stage with works by Schumann and Fauré. However, the Artistic Director had seen my videos and thought that I might fit his own project. He was working with an activist who wanted to bring music to the people and he asked me: “Daria, are you afraid of heights?”. I replied: “Well, no, not that I know of. I do not really like stunts. But I am on a mission and the weirdest things have happened to me so let’s try this”.

The result you can see here.

My triptych is finished, and I am satisfied with the outcome. Many people who did not know keyboard music by Handel have been introduced to it. I still receive many messages from people who did not really listen to keyboard music at all until they heard Handel. But my life with this composer as well as so many others will continue and the experiences and interaction with so many people opened up a lot of new thoughts and possibilities. I like seeing if one can be drawn into music like I am always drawn to it. And I like finding the stage that fits best for different music, because that is also an interesting challenge. I believe it is possible to communicate this in both the modern world of today as well as on the most beautiful of places: the concert stage.

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handel at home (chapter two)

Chapter Two
Six months after my experience playing the streets of Amsterdam, winter came to the city. A week before my CD recording sessions in Hannover, Germany, I felt the incredible need to do something wild again. The reason was twofold: I wanted to perform my program a few more times before recording and I had not lost the desire to reach as many people as possible with Handel’s music. We sat down to think what I could do. January in Amsterdam means possible frozen canals and occasional snow, so in any case it was no option at all to do something outside again.

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Instead I went out on the street where I live and invited random people in for a short house concert in my apartment. It ended up being one of the scariest things I have ever done: I started conversations with complete strangers – luckily I live in quite a safe neighborhood and of course I always had the choice with whom I would speak – and invited them. While I was outside inviting strangers to my home, a good friend waited in the apartment and poured the audience a cup of tea until I came inside to perform. An important part of this exercise was my desire to also invite my neighbors in the street and the owners of the many shops I daily frequent. Why not make everybody I know, and see often, part of the experience? It was a fantastic afternoon. I gave four ten-minute house concerts and it was full house: people came in!

And up to this day my relationship with my neighbors has intensified. In fact, yesterday the owner of the Dutch cheese shop on the corner – who sponsored the lovely afternoon with a platter of cheese- loved the fact that I was going to Los Angeles and made me promise to tell him all the stories I will experience. I will!

Together with my team of creative people we immortialized these Amsterdam moments on film. Because if you really want to spread the music, what quicker way is there than Youtube? I couldn’t imagine though who would see it once it was uploaded…I will tell you about it in Chapter 3.

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climb inside the time machine before LACO’s mozart jupiter

There’s oodles of reasons to be excited for the upcoming Mozart Jupiter concert (it’s this weekend! Do you have your tickets?). Guest conductor Joshua Weilerstein will lead from the podium, guest cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan will grace the stage, and the program includes the west coast premiere of Joseph Hallman‘s imagined landscapes: six Lovecraftian elsewheres. Dig a little deeper, though, (as Christine Gengaro did in her program notes), and you’ll see that each of the three pieces in the program comes from a different century. How ’bout we hop in the time machine and the visit the periods when Mozart and Saint-Saëns were putting pencil to paper and composing the works that’ll be performed this weekend?

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First stop: 1872. In Paris, 37-year-old composer Camille Saint-Saëns finishes construction on his Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, which will go on to become one of the highest-regarded cello concertos ever written. Meanwhile, across the pond in the United States, it was a time for construction from coast to coast. Chicago was in the beginning of a major building boom, after the Great Chicago Fire wiped out 17,000 buildings just one year prior. It also took 300 lives and left 100,000 people homeless.

While Chicago was rebuilding after a disaster, thousands of laborers in New York City were also hard at work changing that city’s skyline. They were in the third year of building the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, which would ultimately take 13 years to complete. By 1872, the foundations for the tower were well underway. It wouldn’t be until 1875 that the towers would be completed. Eight years were needed to then string the cables and build the road, before opening to the public in 1883.

It wasn’t just cities that were taking shape in 1872 – the wild, wild west was also changing. Yellowstone National Park was established as the first national park that same year. The enormous park, measuring 63 miles by 54 miles (over 2.2 million acres!) is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, and was named after the river that begins in the park and flows northeast for nearly 700 miles, before joining the Missouri river near the Montana/North Dakota border.

Next stop: 1788. 32-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart puts the final touches on his 41st Symphony in August of that year. It eventually becomes known as the “Jupiter” symphony, and it’s the final symphony he will ever write.

While that chapter is ending in Europe, a new beginning is quickly blossoming on our shores: the birth of the United States. The Revolutionary War ended five years earlier, and the founding fathers have written a new constitution. By the time 1788 rolls around, three states (Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey) have already ratified it, and by the end of that year, two more states, Georgia and Connecticut, join the list. Just a few months later, in February 1789, George Washington was elected our country’s first President, and he was inaugurated two months after that, at Federal Hall in New York City.

1789 also saw the introduction of the first pasta machine to the United States, brought over by none other than future president Thomas Jefferson, when he returned from his travels in Paris. Pasta was all the rage in Paris kitchens at the time, and Jefferson became enamored. He probably wasn’t the first to make pasta in the US, but he was the first to make it using a machine (which basically extruded dough into macaroni shapes), and he greatly popularized it by serving it at dinners at Monticello.

Final Stop: 2015. Come at the Alex Theatre or Royce Hall, and be a part of history when Joseph Hallman’s imagined landscapes: six Lovecraftian elsewheres is performed on the west coast for the first time!

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I always warn my voice students that they don’t have the luxury of putting their instrument away. While a violinist can put her violin in a case, a clarinetist can take apart his clarinet, and a guitarist can place the instrument on a stand, a singer cannot disconnect the voice from the body. It is subject to illness, fatigue, and tension, and it has to be treated especially carefully because it’s used not just for singing, but for talking and laughing and yelling. When I got laryngitis a month before my Masters recital, I wished I’d taken up some instrument that didn’t get sick right along with me. But it turns out, every once in a while, a composer will ask an instrumentalist to sing, chant, or otherwise vocalize during a piece of music.

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The very first piece I ever heard that asked the instrumentalists to vocalize was Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dance Suite from West Side Story. I’d seen West Side Story, and I knew the Mambo “battle” well. When my high school band played Bernstein’s suite from the musical, I took great pleasure in watching my friends shout the word, “Mambo!” from their seats on stage. There was something odd about it, though, to see an instrumentalist say even a single word while playing. Almost as if while on stage, their instruments should be their only means of communication. I definitely had the sense that words were for singers only, and that instrumentalists could communicate in pure notes alone.

In college, I heard a recording of George Crumb’s 1970 piece for amplified string quartet, Black Angels. At first I thought there was a mistake with the CD. Why did I hear chanting? But in looking at the score, I saw words there. The members of the string quartet were asked to chant along at certain points. They were also called upon to hit crystal glasses and wear metal thimbles to tap the strings. Crumb was an innovator in many ways, and this piece came at a time when this addition of vocal sounds from the instrumentalists shouldn’t have come as any surprise. But in my youth, I remember thinking, “Can a composer just ask his instrumentalists to sing along? Would he have to pay them extra?”

I can also recall seeing one of my colleagues from graduate school perform a solo flute piece that used extended techniques, including making “percussive vocalizations” into the instrument. The effects were so striking, and the piece so fascinating that I remembered the name of the work even though I must have seen this recital well over a decade ago. It’s called Zoom Tube (2001), and the composer is Ian Clarke.

One of the pieces on LACO’s upcoming concert is a recent composition by Joseph Hallman. Like Crumb’s Black Angels and other works like it, Hallman’s imagined landscapes: six Lovecraftian elsewheres calls upon the instrumentalists to sing and chant along in specific places. I am especially excited to hear this work live not only because the instrumentalists will vocalize, something I find quite refreshing, but also because of Hallman’s inspiration for the work. While suffering from insomnia, Hallman began reading the stories of HP Lovecraft (1890-1937). On these evenings, if sleep came to him, Hallman’s dreams were colored by Lovecraft’s Gothic horror fiction. The settings of the stories, in particular, were foremost in his mind. If you know anything about Lovecraft, you know that these settings were well-described and quite complex. How Hallman transformed these dreamlike sensations into music is a statement of Hallman’s creativity. The six miniatures of imagined landscapes are going to be something wonderful and fascinating to experience live.

It’s not every day that an instrumentalist vocalizes as part of a musical work, but the growing frequency of such techniques proves that composers are still looking for ways to expand their color palate. To such a composer, every instrumentalist can be thought of as being in possession of two instruments, the one they chose and the one that they were born with. It’s interesting to see both instruments being used in the same piece, although the vocalizing can be as simple as chanting sounds or words in rhythm without thought to pitch. These players aren’t asked to sing like opera divas, but they can add another layer of sound, another thread to the texture, just by using their voices. Not everyone will appreciate these kinds of extended techniques, but I, for one, am excited to hear the very human sound of voices coming from a bunch of players known for amazing skill on their chosen instruments.

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handel hits the road (chapter one)

As a musician, I am used to sitting alone on a stage and to play for people who have made the decision to attend a concert and to spend the evening listening to a pianist.

A couple of years ago I did something that was totally the opposite. I decided to play in locations where I would reach an audience unexpectedly, an audience that normally does not attend a concert hall. I wanted to reach people with the music of Handel.

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Chapter One

My first experience was in Amsterdam, where I played on a piano towed by a car. We went 10 miles an hour and stood still in between, and I played Handel in streets and near canals that already existed, or were built at the time when the composer was still alive. It was a beautiful sunny day and the city was crowded with Amsterdammers and tourists on a Friday afternoon.

The experience moved me a lot. My contact with the unsuspecting audience was very open and electric. People reacted from the heart, they came up to me and asked questions like “Is this Bach?” or just listened closely. Children looked into the piano whenever I stopped. People on bicycles cycled next to me as I was playing. And everybody was taking photos. I realized that most of the people I played for never go to a concert hall, and there could be so many reasons why they wouldn’t. This was a way for me to play on their terms: I was making a step towards the audience and it felt good. Of course there were also people who did not stop — and there could be so many reasons for that, but I was not trying to please everyone. I was doing an experiment of playing Handel (only Handel! — nothing else) outside in a city to see if people would react to it and love it just as much as I love this music. I never thought this afternoon would impress me as much as it did. And I learned a great deal from it — mostly about the relationship you have as a musician with your audience, and the responsibility you have for how the music you play reaches the ear of the listener. It is something very special. I decided to take it a step further, and I will continue this story in my next blog!

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