Last night’s program at Royce Hall was an interesting one for me. I heard sublime music. The listening experience was delightful. I do not know why every performance by this wonderful orchestra isn’t completely sold out. They are A MAZ ING. Los Angelenos need to get a clue…
Faure’s Pavane ebbs and flows in a series of lovely harmonic and melodic climaxes. For me, it’s reminiscent of Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’. It brings to mind a person remembering earlier days of adventure and travel (it has a hint of the exotic in it). It also reminds me of the lyric from Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’, “Son, can you play me a memory, I’m not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes.” It is sad and sweet. And short, an amuse-bouche, but for the ears (amuse-les oreilles?).
Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 2 follows on this theme in terms of returning to one’s past. This piece is impressive to me in its construction and was expertly executed, but I am not as moved by this style of music and so the story of this piece is more interesting to me than the piece itself. Schoenberg began work on this Symphony in 1906, put it away and brought it out again a few times and finally let it rest, unfinished in 1916. He returned to complete the work 33 years later subsequent to a request from conductor Fritz Stiedry, who asked him for an orchestral piece for his New Friends of Music Orchestra in New York. Schoenberg wrote to Stiedry, “For a month I have been working on the Second Chamber Symphony. I spend most of the time trying to find out ‘What was the author getting at here? Indeed, my style has greatly deepened meanwhile, and I find it hard to reconcile what I then rightly wrote, trusting my sense of form and not thinking too much, with my current extensive demands in respect of ‘visible’ logic. Today that is one of the major difficulties, for it also affects the material.” I don’t know if his return to this piece was sentimental, but it is interesting to observe the return to tonality in his later years. Small and unrelated bit of trivia for y’all: Arnold had triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13).
In my opinion, Ravel’s Ma Mere l’Oye was the musical high point of the evening. Ravel’s music is often described as exquisite, and this orchestral version of Mother Goose is certainly that. It‘s full of subtle details and wildly varying combinations of sounds. I am pretty sure I heard every sound that each of the instruments is capable of making in this one piece! There was screeching and plucking and tapping and delicacy and the lowest of the lows to the highest of the highs. It is unique and authentic and, I believe, reveals something of Ravel’s basic nature: playful, seeking, articulate and adventurous. Again, another reflection on the theme of remembrance, childhood and things past.
In comparison with his 7th and 9th, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93 is much lighter and good humored. It continued the night’s trend of remembrance of things past, retreating to a classical style as he did in his even-numbered symphonies. It is buoyant and witty (the first and last measures of the 1st movement are the same), the minuet contains false downbeats and his “little Symphony in F” concludes with a long and charismatic coda. Because Beethoven, right?
All of this beautiful music was brought to us through a marvelous collaboration between the orchestra and their guest conductor, Matthew Pintscher. Maestro Pintscher is a busy guy. He’s director of Ensemble Intercontemporain, is formally associated with the BBC Scottish Symphony and the Danish National Symphony and is the newly appointed principal conductor of the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra. He also teaches composition at the Juilliard School in New York. He’s really good. LACO is really good and they were really good together. The sound he draws from the orchestra is clean and precise, like a fine point pen, but it’s also full and emotionally lush. He gave them his full attention and they gave him theirs. Shades of things to come? We shall have to wait and see. As I said, he’s a very busy guy.
The only thing I missed in this performance was Maestro Kahane’s commentary. Being a musical “newbie”, I really enjoy his contextualization of the pieces. The “signposts” he provides during his comments, help me draw more from the performances and I come away feeling enriched in my understanding of the music and curious to know more. I look forward to hearing more from him when he returns next month.