Hi, I’m Kathleen, a regular person like yourself.
So, I make my way from the steamy Valley over to Royce Hall on Sunday with my smart and musically literate friend, A, to watch and listen to LACO’s season opener. I find the program interesting. First up is the world premiere of Derrick Spiva’s Prisms, Cycles, Leaps. Next is Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony” and we tie it all up with Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, played by another talented young whippersnapper, Michael Barenboim, the concertmaster and son of Daniel Barenboim, co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
I am intrigued. I’m not certain how this will fit together coherently, but A tells me that this is similar to what LACO did last year in their season opener. And what do I know about any of this anyway, so I’ll bite. I’m just happy to be here.
First things first: THIS ORCHESTRA IS A GEM, A DELIGHT. Does Los Angeles know how lucky it is to have such a masterful group of musicians, right here? They were in total control of their material and it was challenging stuff. Their sound is heavenly. A special shout out to the violins for last night. They were brilliant!
Now, about this young maverick, Derrick Spiva; I feel very grateful to have been present for his piece. It was a revelation. His composition is clean, clear, creative and fearless. His understanding of the classical structure and clear love of sound allowed him to fuse influences of West African drumming, shifting tempos and polyrhythmic patterns with the sounds of classical instruments into something new, pan-cultural and invigorating. And he utilized the orchestra in a way I had not seen before (no spoilers here), which made it a stimulating visual as well as auditory experience. The audience was at full attention for the entire piece and the applause at the end (and this is where that violin section really stepped up) was a totally organic response to what we’d just experienced. This guy is the real deal. Does LA have a flag? Because I want to grab it and plant it on this kid and claim him exclusively for the City of Angels before anyone else grabs him. Kudos to the orchestra as well, it was complicated material and they played it seamlessly.
Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. It was romantic, evocative, deep and beautifully played. Of the piece and the performance of it, I have no criticism. It was exquisite. Of its selection to follow Spiva’s piece, I am critical. For me, this is a desperately sad piece, the orchestral equivalent of a bipolar episode repeated again and again. I don’t know what Schubert was trying to communicate exactly, but it seemed to me to illuminate an inner conflict, a constant struggle between the light and dark within him and an inability to remain in that light. While it was being played, a pall seemed to fall over the audience, which had been so energized by the previous piece. All the enthusiasm that had been generated was diffused and while I don’t object to experiencing different emotional states in response to music, I think in this case, it was a tricky choice to make, bringing us down to a lower level of energy just before the third selection, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, which is a somewhat lengthy, lyrically beautiful and conventional mainstay of the violin’s repertoire.
Michael Barenboim is agile and deft and masterful. His style is clean and precise and the Concerto was an auditory feast for the audience. The Orchestra was a wonderful welcoming nest for his virtuosity. Personally, he seems internalized, if that’s the right word; focused on the playing of the instrument and not necessarily the sharing of the experience with the audience. I felt that separation. The parts that I enjoyed the most were when he played his own cadenza unaccompanied by the Orchestra because it was at those moments that I felt I was witnessing something intimate. I could envision him alone in a rehearsal studio at night, playing for himself, wringing out every kind of sound that beautiful little box can make. He is a wonderful musician and I look forward to a growing warmth in his performance persona.
One last thing, can I say again how MAGNIFICENT is this Orchestra? This was but the season opener and I felt like I was witnessing a playoff team with home field advantage already! I felt sorry for the people who literally leapt out of their seats and bolted for the exits as soon as the applause began (so as to beat the traffic trying to leave the parking lots) because they missed Mr. Barenboim returning to the stage to play another brilliant cadenza. Hah on them.
I so look forward to next month.