Haydn: Cello Concerto ranked among my favorite performances from LACO over the past two years I’ve been blogging.
The evening started out with Benjamin Britten’s Variations on Frank Bridge. Jeffrey Kahane really hyped this one out, calling it one of the greatest pieces of music EVER. Before the piece even began, I noticed with concern that all of the many violinists in the orchestra were NOT supplied with chairs. The cello players seemed to have taken up all the standard folding chairs, leaving the poor violinists standing. As something of a lay-about myself, this seemed incredibly malicious. Sure Britten’s piece might be one of the best ever, but does that really mean those violinists must stand through the whole thing while the cello guys live it up in their chairs? Perhaps it was an experiment in ergonomics? Perhaps it was a prank masterminded by the cellists?
However, once the orchestra began playing Variations my concern for the seating arrangement faded away. I was enchanted by the music. It repeatedly employed a string plucking technique called “pizzicato” (if Wikipedia is to be believed), which I absolutely loved. At times the quick plucks seemed to demand attention, while later it seemed to add a dash of humor or lightness. Variations felt like a classic but at the same time at home in our current modern world.
The next piece was Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C major. I have to admit that the piece itself wasn’t exactly my speed, BUT the performance itself was stellar. So stellar, in fact, that it helped me coin the term “cellousy.” What is “cellousy” you ask? It’s when you’re really jealous of a cellist. Enter guest cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras. This guy is a total hunk and very stylish. He strode on stage wearing a cool, v-neck-ish white button up shirt, no tie (obviously), and pointy black shoes that only cool, vaguely European guys can pull off. Worst/best of all: he made performing this clearly difficult cello concerto look easy. He bow nimbly flew across the cello — making incredibly complex and soulful sounds. To top it off he humbly played an encore performance of Bach’s Cello Suite #1, which was just as incredible as the Haydn Cello Concerto he killed minutes earlier. I’ve never wanted to be a cellist more (or ever) until that fateful Saturday evening. Classic case of cellousy.
After intermission came Mozart’s Serenata Notturna. This next statement is going to sound terrible, and in many ways it is (I apologize in advance), but hear me out:Serenata Notturna reminded me of the semi-obnoxious contemporary pop group, the Black Eyed Peas. Obviously Mozart’s music is much more complex, interesting and important than anything found within the Black Eyed Peas’ catalog (thus far). With that being said this Notturna is repetitive, noticeably silly, historically intended as background music for a party, and wildly popular in its time. This is exactly how I would describe the Black Eyed Peas. According to the LACO program notes, in the 1770s, when Notturna was written, serenades were considered a disposable form of entertainment. ClearlyNotturna is not disposable, since it’s still being played today, but I think perhaps Mozart’s original intent for this piece was not all that different from “I Got A Feelin’.”
The night’s performance concluded with a interesting modern collaboration between composer Bruce Adolphe and Laurie Rubin, a blind mezzo-soprano. Adolphe set music to Rubin’s poem about her experiences in being blind; more specifically, how people who are not visually impaired perceive her experiences. Although I think Rubin has an incredibly beautiful voice, I wasn’t fully able to appreciate all of the lyrics because I’m not used to hearing a mezzo-soprano in English, or really any other language. Somewhat shamefully, I’m also the type of person who will go sing karaoke and know very few of the ACTUAL words to some of my favorite jams. Basically, unless I see the words written down I may not fully grasp a song’s meaning. But, after reading the program notes I thought the lyrics described a fascinating perspective, how a blind person would explain color, that I’d never thought much about before.