So this past Sunday at Royce was date night for me and the hubs. I thought he would really enjoy the eclectic pairing of a Marimba with a Chamber Orchestra and I do love me some Mozart. Also on tap was the West Coast premiere of Timo Andres’ ‘Word of Mouth’ and the ever popular Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G major.

The program opened with the West Coast premiere of Mr. Andres’ Word of Mouth. Before the orchestra began, Mr. Kahane gave us a small tutorial on some of the different kinds of sounds we would be hearing and even played us an excerpt of the Sacred Harp singing from which Mr. Andres drew inspiration. I really enjoyed this. Then began the piece. It is distinctly American: vibrant, energetic and innovative and exceedingly well played by this fine orchestra. I must admit that as a novice, I did not recognize the Sacred Harp influence, nor did I resonate with the comparison to Shaker furniture that I’ve read in other program notes. What I heard was reminiscent of mid-century movie music. I heard Copeland’s ‘Rodeo’, Alfred Newman’s ‘Street Scene’ and Bernstein’s ‘On the Town’. It was very visually evocative music. I saw bustling cityscapes and sweeping American vistas and small town life. There was a particularly notable and wonderful violin crescendo in the section called “Fata Morgana” (I believe). A very enjoyable beginning to the evening, indeed.

Then Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major! I am biased. I think Mozart was a genius, a rock star. He lures you in with his wonderfully lyric facility and you follow along blissfully as he exercises his creative virtuosity, spinning out more and more complex variations on the theme until you’re suddenly hit with just how deep in to the music he has taken you. It’s a bit like traveling fast in an exotic sports car with an expert behind the wheel: exhilarating, exciting and a bit overwhelming. The driver, in this case, was the much hailed (and rightly so) Richard Goode. He’s a great driver too. He handled every curve in the road, every hill and valley with depth and expressiveness. He literally played the hell out of this concerto (sorry but he did!). He exorcised every drop of powerful emotion out of this piece and delivered it straight to the audience, which was visibly energized by the piece and the player. Much applause. As an encore, Mr. Goode played a calming balm to soothe us; Bach’s Sarabande No. 1. Lovely.

Marimbas. Concertos. I didn’t really think of these two things organically going together, but together they did go, and it was a pleasure to watch and hear. Emmanuel Sejourne’s Concerto for Marimbas and Strings was a groovy fusion of sounds and to hear the marimbas successfully treated as a piano speaks to the skill of the marimbist, Wade Culbreath. Again I was reminded (in the first movement) of mid-century movie music, French movie music this time. This influence was confirmed when I read that Mr. Sejourne has scored many films. The second movement’s more dance-like rhythms provided a pleasing contrast. The audience, again, loved this concerto and rose to their collective feet at its denouement.

Can I just say that Jeffrey Kahane’s low-key swagger is really growing on me? The final piece of the evening was Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G major and after a night of supporting (perfectly) soloist virtuosity, Mr. Kahane apparently decided it was time to let his orchestra show us what it’s all about. He really wound them up and let them run. His conducting was particularly expressive, with some wonderful examples coming in the Largo and then, in the Finale, he literally stepped off the podium and just turned them loose. He looked out at the audience, a “deal with that” expression on his face. It was definitely a “drop the mike” moment. You couldn’t argue with him either. They are an amazing, tight, talented and badass group of musicians. ‘Nuff said.