It’s that time of year again: It’s cooling off, leaves are turning vibrant shades of red, orange and brown, and people are pulling their heavier sweaters out from the back of their closets. OK, you got me. None of those things actually happen in Los Angeles, land of never-ending heat and a year-round green (and brown) landscape. But it’s nice to mark the start of fall with some sort an annual tradition, and lucky for me, LACO has filled that void with the start of their new season. I went to their season premiere concert on Saturday at the Ambassador Auditorium, and I get the pleasure of telling you all about it!
If you’re new here, I’m The Untrained Ear. I write about music from the point of view of someone who knows jacksquat about classical music, orchestras, time periods or composers. This is the start of my sixth season (!) blogging for LACO, so you’d think that I would’ve picked something here or there, and perhaps I have, but I really think I’m am clueless as I ever was. And that’s a good thing. You don’t have to be a music scholar or a trained musician to enjoy what LACO presents. I’m just a guy who likes being exposed to new things, and has an appreciation for beautiful music, whether it’s Tchaikovsky, Björk, Pharrell Williams or the score to a compelling scene from the fourth season of Lost.
I was exposed to a ton of new music on Saturday night, as I had never heard any of the pieces on the program before. The most unique piece was Chain 2, by Polish composer Witold Lutosławski. Music director Jeffrey Kahane prefaced the piece by saying the musicians had some flexibility in how they played the notes, which meant every performance of this piece could vary and differ, and all that was pretty intriguing. The piece itself, though, wandered and stuttered, and lacked a melody, which is a bit of a deal-breaker for me. There were beautiful moments, for sure, and lots of interesting sounds and instrument combinations. It made me curious to hear it again, just to see if I could tell how different it sounded on a different night or with different musicians. I also wondered if the musicians’ flexibility meant that perhaps it was more fun to play than it was to hear.
The definite highlight of Chain 2 was the performance by Benjamin Beilman, the guest violinist. He aggressively tackled that score with nearly violent movements, tossing his hair back and forth across his forehead. His passion was clear (as was his talent and precision), and what I loved was that his passion was displayed in a completely different way in Chain 2 than it was in the Mozart Violin Concerto that he also played. In the concerto, Beilman seemed consumed by the music, swaying and seemingly feeling it from head to foot. He delivered a powerful and moving performance, and his versatility is noteworthy. And did I mention he’s only 24? That is one skilled twenty-something.
My favorite piece of the evening, though, was Zoltan Kodály’s Dances of Galánta, a lively showstopper that took elements from Hungarian folk music and transformed them into a boisterous, captivating, thrilling piece of music. It was fitting that the concert ended with this piece, because the musicians looked exhausted afterwards. Dances of Galánta is definitely going on my iPod – that’s the next item on my to-do list!