Welcome back to a new season of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and thus a new season of my “Newbie Blog”. Although I’ve been doing this for three years now, I’d still say I’m a classical newbie. Maybe I’ve learned enough to be called “Somewhat Seasoned-ie” but that doesn’t sound great so we’ll just stick with newbie.
Opening night began with a new piece commissioned by LACO called “Lines of the Southern Cross” and conductor Jeffery Kahane explained that the piece was about Australia and would feature a bit of aboriginal influence. He also mentioned that aboriginal Australians are the oldest living culture in the world which I didn’t know. Classic newbie move. Anyways, “Lines of the Southern Cross” like most modern compositions had it’s fair share of dark, foreboding parts. These parts were broken up in cool unexpected ways thanks to the use of a number of unusual instruments some of which I don’t know the names of so I made up some new ones. The first I’m going to call “shaky snakes”. “Shaky snakes” are quite similar to rain sticks (long hollow sticks partially filled with beans that make a rain like sound when you flip it upside down) but more slithery and shifty sounding…like a snake. I could be wrong but I think I heard three distinct types of “shaky snakes” used during the performance. Or perhaps one can adjust a “shaky snake” to three different settings. The other mystery instrument were “wheat sticks”. “Wheat sticks” look like a big old piece of wheat and unsurprisingly make the sound of foliage moving ever so slightly. I have to commend the “shaky snake”/”wheat stick” players Wade Culbreath and Kenneth McGrath who had to also play a ton of other instruments including chimes, a drip sound (I have no idea what they used to make this sound), xylophone, AND my favorite instrument the triangle. These guys have to be the most stressed players in all of LACO. Having to switch between multiple strange instruments at just the right time would probably be the end of me. I could only handle triangle at best.
Next up was Camille Saint Saëns’ Piano Concerto #5 op 103 in F Major aka “The Egyptian”. A bit of a tangent but I must say that I absolutely love it when complicatedly named pieces get a cool nickname like “The Egyptian”. In fact, I’m going to think of a cool one for Beethoven’s 5th by the next paragraph. I had never heard of Saint Saëns before but I absolutely loved “The Egyptian”. The piece was at times light, dreamy, airy and never held the completely serious / somber weight that some classical pieces do. It felt accessible and adventurous. Like something that could be enjoyed at a bar (in the 1890s) or concert hall: a little fancy yet still approachable. According to the program notes Saint Saëns loved to travel and that vibe really came through in the piano performance by soloist Juho Pohjonen. Pohjonen did an excellent job and looked like he was having a lot of fun playing this lovely piece.
After a break, it was time for the big event of the night: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op. 67 or as I will now call it “The Intimidator”. “The Intimidator” storms right in with the iconic DUN DUN DUN DUH then slowly subsides only to come back again fiercely hence it’s new nickname ala Saëns. The thing I enjoyed most about hearing “The Intimidator” live was the surround sound feeling. By that I mean one side of the orchestra with the violins would be playing and then suddenly the other side with the cellos would respond making it the feel like the sound was darting back and fourth around the room. Like Audio table tennis. In conclusion, here are two excellent paintings of Beethoven by great friend of the blog Dr. Taghi Tirgari.