young & gifted times three

Hi, I’m Kathleen, a regular person like yourself.

So, I make my way from the steamy Valley over to Royce Hall on Sunday with my smart and musically literate friend, A, to watch and listen to LACO’s season opener. I find the program interesting. First up is the world premiere of Derrick Spiva’s Prisms, Cycles, Leaps. Next is Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” and we tie it all up with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, played by another talented young whippersnapper, Michael Barenboim, the concertmaster and son of Daniel Barenboim, co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.

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I am intrigued. I’m not certain how this will fit together coherently, but A tells me that this is similar to what LACO did last year in their season opener. And what do I know about any of this anyway, so I’ll bite. I’m just happy to be here.

First things first: THIS ORCHESTRA IS A GEM, A DELIGHT. Does Los Angeles know how lucky it is to have such a masterful group of musicians, right here? They were in total control of their material and it was challenging stuff. Their sound is heavenly. A special shout out to the violins for last night. They were brilliant!

Now, about this young maverick, Derrick Spiva; I feel very grateful to have been present for his piece. It was a revelation. His composition is clean, clear, creative and fearless. His understanding of the classical structure and clear love of sound allowed him to fuse influences of West African drumming, shifting tempos and polyrhythmic patterns with the sounds of classical instruments into something new, pan-cultural and invigorating. And he utilized the orchestra in a way I had not seen before (no spoilers here), which made it a stimulating visual as well as auditory experience. The audience was at full attention for the entire piece and the applause at the end (and this is where that violin section really stepped up) was a totally organic response to what we’d just experienced. This guy is the real deal. Does LA have a flag? Because I want to grab it and plant it on this kid and claim him exclusively for the City of Angels before anyone else grabs him. Kudos to the orchestra as well, it was complicated material and they played it seamlessly.

Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. It was romantic, evocative, deep and beautifully played. Of the piece and the performance of it, I have no criticism. It was exquisite. Of its selection to follow Spiva’s piece, I am critical. For me, this is a desperately sad piece, the orchestral equivalent of a bipolar episode repeated again and again. I don’t know what Schubert was trying to communicate exactly, but it seemed to me to illuminate an inner conflict, a constant struggle between the light and dark within him and an inability to remain in that light. While it was being played, a pall seemed to fall over the audience, which had been so energized by the previous piece. All the enthusiasm that had been generated was diffused and while I don’t object to experiencing different emotional states in response to music, I think in this case, it was a tricky choice to make, bringing us down to a lower level of energy just before the third selection, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, which is a somewhat lengthy, lyrically beautiful and conventional mainstay of the violin’s repertoire.

Michael Barenboim is agile and deft and masterful. His style is clean and precise and the Concerto was an auditory feast for the audience. The Orchestra was a wonderful welcoming nest for his virtuosity. Personally, he seems internalized, if that’s the right word; focused on the playing of the instrument and not necessarily the sharing of the experience with the audience. I felt that separation. The parts that I enjoyed the most were when he played his own cadenza unaccompanied by the Orchestra because it was at those moments that I felt I was witnessing something intimate. I could envision him alone in a rehearsal studio at night, playing for himself, wringing out every kind of sound that beautiful little box can make. He is a wonderful musician and I look forward to a growing warmth in his performance persona.

One last thing, can I say again how MAGNIFICENT is this Orchestra? This was but the season opener and I felt like I was witnessing a playoff team with home field advantage already! I felt sorry for the people who literally leapt out of their seats and bolted for the exits as soon as the applause began (so as to beat the traffic trying to leave the parking lots) because they missed Mr. Barenboim returning to the stage to play another brilliant cadenza. Hah on them.

I so look forward to next month.

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schubert’s gift for melody

As a singer, I have always loved Schubert’s melodies. When I was a student, I chose German art songs as a focus, and I dedicated one of my recitals entirely to the music of this composer. In his short life, just shy of 32 years, Schubert composed more than six hundred songs and proved himself a skillful musical interpreter of poetry. He wrote many solo piano pieces and scores of chamber works including his famous “Trout” quintet and numerous string quartets and piano trios. He was not quite as prolific in larger genres, although he did expend some energy trying to expand his horizons. One would imagine that given his talent in writing dramatic material for the voice that he would have been a star in the world of opera. That, unfortunately, did not happen, but that’s a topic for another blog.

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For the orchestra, Schubert composed eight overtures and eight symphonies, although that last number comes with an asterisk. Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 is known as the “Unfinished” Symphony, and it comes with a fascinating story. Now one might be forgiven for thinking that this symphony was written at the very end of Schubert’s life, and remains tragically unfinished because of his untimely death. But that is not what happened. In fact, Schubert had six years to complete what he started, but instead moved on to other things. He never went back to it, even though he had plenty of time to do so.

Schubert began writing Symphony No. 8 in the winter of 1822. In the manuscript, there were two complete movements and sketches for a third. Why did he not finish the piece? Well, theories abound. One theory holds that Schubert’s physical health was to blame. Another theory blames depression (perhaps exacerbated by physical illness). Yet another theory suggests that Schubert was just feeling insecure about his symphony-writing abilities. His contemporary, Ludwig van Beethoven was already casting a large shadow in the musical world. Whatever the reason, Schubert’s two movements and the sketches were put away, destined to stay hidden until 1860 (more than three decades after Schubert’s death), when those pieces were found in the study of Schubert’s friend, Anselm Hüttenbrenner. Five years later, the work (with a third movement from one of Schubert’s other pieces tacked on to the end) was finally premiered. At some point, folks stopped adding a third movement on to the end, figuring out that the two movements worked well alone.

What does shine through, especially in the first movement is Schubert’s gift for melody. The second tune presented in the symphony is actually one of his better known instrumental melodies. Like his Lieder, the symphony explores light and dark, and innovative ways to switch between the two. In the second movement, Schubert uses the timbre of the clarinet to show off a lovely solo melodic line. For a symphony, which does not seem to be referencing any dramatic narrative or non-musical topic, there is plenty of drama and emotion. Symphony No. 8 definitely shows off the gifts that I admire most in Schubert’s work.m

The Schubert piece is one of three that LACO will present in its 2015-2016 opening concert. The concert itself will open with a brand new work. Derrick Spiva’s Prisms, Cycles, Leaps will receive its world premiere. Meshing western and non-western musical influences, Prisms, Cycles, Leaps is may very well be unlike anything you’re used to hearing. Spiva is LACO’s composer in residence for this season, and we will look forward to hearing more examples of his unique creative style.

The finale of the evening will be Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D from 1806. The turn of the century, and the years immediately following were among the most challenging for Beethoven. The main cause of the trouble was Beethoven’s worsening deafness, but he would eventually figure out how to live and carve out a career in composition despite this issue. In the midst of this and other things, Beethoven composed this concerto for violinist and conductor, Franz Clement. It’s not a ground-breaking piece in terms of its form; it stays within the boundaries that one would expect from any late Classical or early Romantic concerto. However, Beethoven rarely wrote anything ordinary. What jumps out at me is the tendency toward emotional surprises, the stormy mood swings that seem to pervade some of Beethoven’s music after 1800. Both Schubert and Beethoven, who died a year apart, were quite skilled at changing emotions on a dime.

Our soloist for the Beethoven is the extraordinary Michael Barenboim. He is a skilled interpreter of modern music, but even at the age of thirty he has mastered many of the established gems of the repertoire. He’s played all over the world, and he brings his unique talent to our stage. With Schubert, Beethoven, Spivak, Barenboim, our own Jeffrey Kahane, and the musicians of LACO, it’s going to be an amazing evening and a great way to open the season.

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prisms, cycles, leaps

I was 12 years old and had just watched the film Apollo 13. I was convinced that I wanted to become an astronaut. The film had affected me so strongly. However, as a child I had asthma, and soon realized that it would be very difficult for me to pass the rigorous physical training that becoming an astronaut requires. But I wondered to myself, how was it that watching a film had inspired me to embark on the difficult path of becoming an astronaut? How had this idea been planted so deeply in my mind? For me, it was the music, the film’s soundtrack, that had given the film so much emotional power. When I realized this, that music had the power to change people’s actions and perceptions of the world, I decided I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to create music.

The piece that Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra will be performing, Prisms, Cycles, Leaps, is the result of many years of experimentation, training, and research, and is the first in a series of works of a similar theme. While a student at UCLA and California Institute of the Arts, I’ve had the privilege and joy of studying music from many different cultures, including West African music and dance, but also Hindustani classical music, as well as music of the Balkans. All of these musical traditions have had a strong influence on the piece. How could I bring these different musical traditions into the same space, together with a Western classical orchestra? The main point of difficulty was notation. Many elements of these musical traditions are learned through oral methods rather than from reading notes on a page. Some of the most interesting rhythms to me are ones that can be felt in more than one meter. If you can imagine, it felt to me as though these rhythms were alive, and I had to wrestle them in order to put them on the page! I began to understand why many of these rhythms come from an oral tradition, as some feel very different from how they appear on paper. It took many attempts and experiments, (along with help from some sight-reading musician friends), to figure out how to most effectively notate these rhythmic ideas. In the end, it was quite a wild ride—which I hope you will enjoy!

introducing sara

Hello there!

My name is Sara Ford and I am the new Development and Donor Relations Assistant at the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. I am so excited to work for this amazing organization! Music and service for non-profits have always been my two passions. I can’t wait to pursue them both simultaneously and work towards providing music to the LA community! Here’s a little about me:

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  1. Hometown: Manhattan Beach, CA (LA native!)
  2. Parents: Mark (Aerospace Engineer) & Penny (Upper Management)
  3. First musical memory: Britney Spears concert for my 8th birthday; also seeing the ballet Cinderella at the Ahmanson
  4. Education: Master of Music from Indiana University (2015) and Bachelor of Music from University of Southern California (2013) FIGHT ON!!!
  5. Instrument: French Horn
  6. Most memorable performance: Performing Konzertstück for Four Horns with the Ossian Quartet at IU with an orchestra; playing Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony in Disney Hall
  7. Motto: Sky above me, Earth below me, Fire within me.
  8. Favorite composer: Mahler
  9. Favorite animal: French Bulldog
  10. Favorite food: Any and all Mexican food
  11. Favorite pastimes: soaking up the sun at the beach, finding the best burrito in Southern California, jamming with friends, volunteering, any sport/workout, watching USC football

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welcome, Nicole!

Every summer, LACO welcomes a new high school intern from the Constitutional Rights Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to “assuring our country’s future by investing in our youth today.” I am happy to introduce you to this summer’s intern, Nicole Morales, who works with LACO through mid-July:

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When you’re born and raised in K-Town (Korea Town) you get used to always being surrounded by music, whether it’s Spanish rock, K-Pop or J. Cole’s freshest album, your feet are always subconsciously walking to a familiar beat. Music is such an important part of not just my life but others across the globe as well; it’s a universal language in which we can communicate as we please, it’s what brings us all together. Ever since I can remember I have always been fascinated with music, so fascinated that at the age of seven I begged my father to buy me a guitar for my birthday instead of the latest Barbie and her accessories. I used to put on shows for my stuffed animals and rock out to Elvis or the Beatles as a kid and to me those memories are the ones I am most fond of because I was doing something I loved and I got to share it with others, even though they were just stuffed animals.

As a rising senior from School of the Visual Arts and Humanities at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, this fall I will be applying to colleges and hope to pursue a career in kinesiology and hopefully in the future work with professional sports teams. Though I do not plan to make a career out of music I am deeply honored to be able to experience my ‘first real world’ job with such a respected and overall amazing organization and group of people. Though I’ve only been here for less than a week, working with them has been a complete delight and I’ve learned many things that will help continue to grow as a person. I’ve been a part of many teams in my short 17 years of life, yet this team of hardworking people never ceases to amaze me with their work. My days left with LACO are numbered but the experiences and skills that I am gaining are ones that will last a lifetime, and for that I am eternally grateful.

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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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