PREVIEW: Electric guitar (yes, you read that right) to be featured at Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra opening concerts

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

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Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor, Wiek Hijmans, electric guitar

Mozart: Magic Flute Overture;
Osvaldo Golijov: Sidereus (West Coast
premiere); Derek Bermel: Ritornello for electric guitar and orchestra (West
Coast premiere); Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major

Saturday, September 24, 8 p.m. Alex Theatre, Glendale

Sunday, September 25, 7 p.m. Royce Hall, UCLA

Preconcert lectures one hour before each program.

Information: www.laco.org

 

55303-Wiejmans-ocean.jpg

Electric Guitarist
Wiek Hijmans will be the soloist in this weekend’s season-opening concerts by
the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (details above). Photo credit: Tom Weerheijm

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Beethoven and The Beatles? Well, The Fab Four won’t be appearing at this weekend’s Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra concerts — the opening programs in the ensemble’s 43rd
season — but one of the featured works on the program will certain channel the
boys from Liverpool … and the concert will conclude with one of Beethoven’s most
sublime piano concertos.

 

Jeffrey Kahane will begin his 15th season as
LACO’s music director with an eclectic program that seems wildly exotic but, in
fact, is tightly knit by tradition. Kahane will open and close with two
cornerstones of classical music: Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute and Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, in
which Kahane will both be soloist and conduct from the keyboard.

 

In between will come two West Coast premieres: Sidereus, an overture-like work by
Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov that was premiered a year ago by the Memphis
Symphony, and — most intriguingly — Ritornello
for Electric Guitar and Orchestra
by LACO Composer-in-Residence Derek Bermel.
Dutch musician Wiek Hijmans, for whom the latter piece was written, will be the
soloist.

 

Don’t be put off by the solo instrument, says Hijmans. “Ritornello [Encyclopedia Britannica calls
the title 'a recurrent musical section that alternates with different episodes
of contrasting material'] is written in a very classical form,” he explains, “with
very beautiful and even catchy material. Audiences come away whistling the
tunes.”

 

For both the composer and soloist, electric guitars were
seminal influences in their musical upbringing. “As a teenager,” writes Bermel (who,
like Hijmans, was born in 1967), “I was an avid fan of the prog-rock band “King
Crimson” in its second incarnation, which featured the great electric guitar
duo Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew. When I set out to write this concerto, their
mesmerizing contrapuntal textures came to mind. As the piece evolved, the
material seemed connected to the Baroque concerto
grosso,
both in style and form exemplified by composers
such as Corelli and
Vivaldi.”

 

As with many concerto
grosso
works, Bimel has left spaces in the 14-minute piece for
improvisation. “Knowing
that Wiek Hijmans is a
formidable improviser,” says Bimel, “I left room
for him to explore further musical possibilities, separating the ritornello sections with ‘French
Overture’ interludes (exemplified by composers such as Lully), the second one
overlaid with a thrash-metal (Metallica, Slayer, et al.) solo that likewise
evokes the Baroque aesthetic in its mannered, epic style.”

 

If
that all sounds a bit formidable, relax, says Hijmans. “The cadenzas are a very
old form, and they give me the chance for me to meld classical and electric
guitar sounds,” he explains. “Moreover, each time I play the piece it’s a
different experience. I develop the cadenza in concert, as it were, feeding off
of each audience and each hall; I can’t tell you now exactly what it will sound
like. Things like the size of the hall and the reaction of the audience make a
difference.”

 

Hijmans has been able to grow into the work, which was
premiered May 21 by David Allen Miller and the Albany [NY} uSymphony Orchestra.
A month later came the European premiere with the Netherlands Jeugdorkest
(Youth String Orchestra) in Amsterdam’s famed Concertgebouw concert hall. “I’ve
played the piece five times with the Netherlands YSO,” says Hijmans. “It’s
quite exceptional that a new piece for orchestra has been played eight times in
five months.”

 

The 44-year-old Hijmans has been working to this moment for
most of his life. His parents were trained in classical music. “However,” he
says with a chuckle, “I grew up listening to The Beatles (which my sister
introduced into our house). I was totally psyched by their music and from a
very early age, I felt the urge to merge Western classical music sounds with
rock music.”

 

Although Hijmans lived in what he termed “quite a boring
town in southwest Holland,” he did attend new music festivals that featured
composers such as Morton Feldman and John Cage. Hijmans played percussion in
the school orchestra and electric guitar and experimented with the improvisational
sounds and styles of jazz

 

He eventually went on to the Sweelinck Conservatory of
Amsterdam because, as he wryly notes, “there was no rock academy where I could
study.” He studied genres such as Palestrina counterpoint along with classical
guitar, where a progressive teacher allowed him to use his electric guitar
during lessons. During that time, he and several students formed improvisatory
ensembles that performed music ranging from Stockhausen to rock.

 

Hijmans eventually won a Fullbright Scholarship to study
with David Starbio at the Manhattan School of Music. One of the members of the
Fullbright jury was Bermel and the two struck up a friendship that is reflected
in this new concerto.

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(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.