LACO’s next concert features some very new and interesting works alongside two Classical favorites. This program is an excellent example of the way Jeffrey Kahane keeps LACO on top of current trends but still manages to satisfy those members of our audience who can’t live without the classics. One of the new pieces, Word of Mouth, is actually receiving its west coast premiere at our concert. The pieces by Haydn and Mozart might very well be familiar to you, so I thought I’d focus on the new pieces and their unique stories.
Timo Andres composed Word of Mouth after being inspired by an American musical tradition called the Sacred Harp. In this tradition—which began within the Protestant religion, but now encompasses secular ideas as well—singers face inward and sing for each other. There is no conductor and no formal audience. Singing is a community experience. This music is often written with notes that have noteheads of varying shape. This type of notation is called shape note and it became associated with the Sacred Hard repertoire in the nineteenth century.
The program notes go into more detail about how Andres incorporates actual Sacred Harp tunes and other musical references, and I hope you will read all about that. But I know, even as a program annotator, that a unique piece like Word of Mouth will only truly come to life on stage. It’s definitely an experience that should not be missed. Andres has been bringing his one-of-a-kind style to LACO for a few years now. In 2012, LACO presented a work by Mozart, which was in Andres’ words a “re-composition.” The work in question is Mozart’s Coronation Concerto, K. 537, a piece that Mozart left incomplete. Andres’ new left-hand part for the piano gave us all a new perspective on this work, and on Mozart’s quintessentially Classical style. One reviewer called the result, “kinky, quirky and cute.” On that same night in 2012, Andres presented the world premiere for our “Sound Investment” commission, a scintillating work called Old Keys, composed for piano and orchestra. Andres is an innovator, and his ideas are fascinating meditations on the kinds of things he’s heard and experienced. All of his influences seem to be near the surface, ready to burst forth in something that is wholly new and truly interesting. Word of Mouth is sure to be no different, and I for one am excited to see it live.
The other modern piece on the program is a marimba concerto by French composer and percussionist, Emmanuel Séjourné. Like Timo Andres, Séjourné brings a unique collection of influences to the table. Some of these musical ingredients will certainly be noticeable when LACO’s own Wade Culbreath plays the solo part of this work. The second movement in particular seems to be based on Flamenco music, and overall Séjourné has written a marimba part that is almost guitar-like in its construction. In discussing the piece Culbreath has described the piece as both “extremely emotive” and “very groove-oriented.” Séjourné’s two-movement concerto for marimba and strings will be juxtaposed with Mozart’s eighteenth Piano Concerto. To see two such works, both under the same genre umbrella of “concerto,” side-by-side, is to understand the breadth and depth of the Western musical tradition. And it is wonderful to see that LACO is able to do both equally well.
If your experience of percussion instruments is limited, let me tell you a little about the marimba. It is an instrument that has roots in both Africa and Central America. It is actually the national instrument of Guatemala. The marimba is similar in design to the xylophone, although its bars are a bit larger and of a slightly different shape. Like the xylophone, the marimba’s wooden bars are constructed using the configuration of a piano keyboard. Underneath each bar, there is a tuned resonator, which looks like a metal tube (in earlier centuries, these resonators were made out of hollowed out gourds). The resonators amplify the sound of the bars when they are struck. The mallets used to play the marimba are usually softer than those used to play the xylophone because hard sticks or mallets might damage the wood of the marimba. The bars can be constructed with rosewood (first choice), mahogany, or bubinga. The most desirable type of rosewood for marimbas only grows in southern Guatemala and parts of Belize.
The marimba has a deep, warm sound that doesn’t have the same kind of attack that one might associate with the xylophone. This warmth is its strength, but it also means that when writing for the marimba, a composer must be aware that its sound can be easily covered up. Making it the solo instrument in a concerto is actually a brilliant use of the marimba, allowing it to shine when necessary, but also bring warmth and connection to the entire ensemble. Indeed the sound of the marimba is often described as “mellow.” I’m sure, though, in the hands of Wade Culbreath, with the support of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, we can add the adjectives, “fascinating” and “dazzling.”