By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor; Wiek Hijmans, electric guitar
Mozart: Magic Flute
Overture; Osvaldo Golijov: Sidereus; Derek
Bermel: Ritornello (for electric
guitar and orchestra); Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major
Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011 Royce Hall (UCLA)
Next concerts: Oct. 15 (Alex Theater, Glendale) and 16
It seems like it was only yesterday when a young, curly
haired pianist/conductor became the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s fifth music
director, but Jeffrey Kahane (pictured right) — with a little less of the curly
hair and a lot more experience — began his 15th season as LACO
leader with concerts this weekend at Glendale’s Alex Theatre and UCLA’s Royce
Hall. Before Sunday’s performance, Principal Oboist Alan Vogel, speaking on
behalf of the orchestra, praised Kahane’s musical and personal qualities and
said, “This is the ‘Golden Age’ of LACO.”
The qualities that make d LACO one of the nation’s finest chamber
ensembles and Kahane’s penchant for building eclectic programs were both on
display Sunday night. He led a superbly played evening bookended by two of
classical music’s benchmarks that surrounded the west coast premiere of two
contemporary pieces. All four works were gems, played splendidly.
The program began with not one but two overtures: a
crackling, sparkling, precise reading of Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro, followed by
Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov’s Sidereus.
The latter was a complicated commission for Golijov because
it came from 35 orchestras of different sizes who asked for an overture-like
piece to honor Henry Fogel, former president and CEO of the League of American
Orchestras. The title refers to a 1610 treatise, Sidereus Nuncis, by the astronomer Galileo and records his early
observations of Jupiter, our moon and stars through his telescope.
According to Christine Lee Gengaro’s program note, Golijov
said the opening should be “ominous, massive, suspended in time and space.”
That’s exactly how it sounded, in part because Kahane emphasized the deep
sonorities by seating the trombones and tuba stage right, just behind the
violins and close to the front of the stage. It was an unusual seating plan but
one cannily gauged for this piece, which turned out to be engrossing in both
its construction and sonic effects; one could easily imagine this overture
being used in some future deep-space-themed movie.
The other premiere was Ritornello
(for electric guitar and orchestra) by Derek Bermel, who is completing his
three-year stint as LACO’s composer-in-residence. Wieck Hijmans journeyed from
the Netherlands to play the work, the eighth time in five months that he’s
played the 14-minute piece. It begins with a catchy little cadenza that sounds
as if Andres Segovia had been exhumed to play an amplified guitar. That’s the
first of three cadenzas — the final one allows Hijmans to exercise his heavy
metal, rock and roll proclivities to interesting, albeit somewhat weird effect –
and the work ends as quietly as it began with the same catchy tune that harkens
back to the Baroque era. Hijmans was scintillating as the soloist; Kahane and
the orchestra accompanied skillfully.
After intermission, Kahane was the soloist and conducted
from the keyboard in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, a work that he has
played often with LACO — the first time was in 1989, eight years before he
became the orchestra’s music director.
Since then he has played and conducted the piece three times and led
Andr Watts in another performance.
As far as I’m concerned, Kahane — who celebrated his 55th
birthday two weeks ago — can play and conduct this work as often as he wants if
he and LACO can match last night’s scintillating performance. Kahane’s
crystalline tone focused on clarity and he maked the piano an integral part of
the ensemble, which responded last night with perfectly couched chemistry (so
together are Kahane and his colleagues that he appeared not to be conducting at
all at the beginning of the second movement, sitting motionless as if in
meditation). The cadenzas (written by Beethoven) and the ultra-fast third
movement gave Kahane plenty of chances to demonstrate his virtuosity but what
impressed me the most was the entire sense of a community making music.
As if to emphasize that collegial spirit, Kahane encored not
with a solo piece but with the Adagio
Assai movement of Ravel’s G Major Piano Concerto; he and his colleagues
gave it a sensitive, elegant reading. As Alan Vogel said at the concert’s
beginning, this is, indeed, a golden age for LACO.
One of the pleasures of attending a concert are the
erudite program notes and the material contained in the printed booklet, which
includes the orchestration, estimated duration and LACO’s performance history
with each of the pieces. Other ensembles would do well to emulate what I could
consider to be an important part of attending a concert.
Although I wasn’t able to attend because I was traveling
from the Rio Hondo Symphony concert (LINK) to Royce Hall, another plus to LACO
concerts Beethoven — in this case, the Symphony No. 3 (Eroica) – is also on the agenda for the Oct. 15 and 16 concerts.
This was one of the symphonies with which Kahane sought to broaden the
audience’s understanding of what a “chamber orchestra” could play (i.e., not
just small, Baroque works). The program also includes Canadian soprano Karina
Gauvin as soloist Britten’s Les
Illuminations, Op. 18, and Now sleeps
the crimson petal.
(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.