OK, so ‘life’ may be a tad of an overstatement. Perhaps ‘where have you been all summer?’ would be the more appropriate title for this post, but dammit, it just doesn’t have the same dramatic flair! No matter how I word it, the truth remains: There hasn’t been a LACO concert since the spring, and since I didn’t get my act together to see the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl this year, my summer has been devoid of orchestral concerts altogether. Until last night. The new LACO season kicked off with a bang, followed by an array of strange new sounds, followed by a beautiful and impressive simmer. Shall I break it down for you?
I felt like the luckiest boy in the world, because the opening piece of the new LACO season just happened to be one of my favorite pieces in the whole wide world. I stumbled upon a recording of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major earlier this year – I don’t remember how – and promptly fell in love. The first movement in particular captivates me, with its passages that alternate between lush, bluesy, and intimate and staccato and soaring. The final minute or so of that movement is so compelling and driving, and builds in such a fascinating way, that I often listen to it while I’m working out. Yes, I just confessed to listening to orchestral music while exercising, although, among the crowd that reads this blog, perhaps that isn’t so strange. Or is it?
Anywho, it was a treat to hear Jeffrey Kahane and the LACO musicians tackle the Ravel Concerto. It’s always impressive when Kahane conducts from the keyboard – a feat of multitasking unlike any other I can think of – and hearing this piece live, and being able to focus on the musicians creating the sounds and melodies that I love so much right in front of me… WOW.
The Ravel was followed by two West Coast premieres, and how lucky were we that both composers were in-house to introduce their pieces? Andrew Norman’s The Great Swiftness was a short and strange piece inspired by an imposing and bold sculpture in Michigan. Like Norman, I’m a Michigander, and although I was raised on the other side of the state, I’m familiar with the sculpture. I was really hoping to love the piece, and I’m a little bummed that I didn’t.
I liked James Matheson’s True South a little more, because there were some nice majestic moments, but both pieces reminded me of campy science-fiction movies from the ’50s and ’60s, where townsfolk are on the run from giant mutant ants. I didn’t get into either piece very much, although I love that I had the opportunity to hear music being written by composers of my generation.
After the intermission, the orchestra performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, with guest artist Augustin Hadelich on violin. Hadelich was fun to watch. He played his part from memory – and the concerto’s over 40 minutes long – but what was even more impressive was that based on the way he was moving on stage and mouthing along to the melodies, it seemed like he knew every other part as well. The crowd loved the Beethoven, and our standing ovation led to Hadelich playing a lovely Bach Sonata as an encore.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if I can find a giant mutant ant movie to record on my TiVo.