OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Kahane bids a fond farewell to LACO

By Robert D. Thomas
Music Critic
Southern California News Group

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor
Saturday at Alex Theatre; Glendale
Next performances: Tonight at 7 p.m. at Royce Hall, UCLA
Information: www.laco.org

Jeffrey Kahane is conducting his final concerts after a 20-year reign as Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra music director. This image was the printed program cover; a framed copy, signed by the orchestra members, was presented to Kahane last night.

During the last eight days local classical music organizations have performed three farewell concerts. Last Saturday John Alexander bid goodbye to the Pacific Chorale after 45 years as its Music Director (REVIEW LINK). On Thursday, the Los Angeles Philharmonic honored Deborah Borda, who is stepping down as its President and CEO (REVIEW LINK)

This weekend, Jeffrey Kahane is bidding the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra adieu after 20 years as its Music Director, although he will remain as Conductor Laureate. Based on last night’s performance at the Alex Theatre in Gledane, he’s doing it with what might be called a quintessential Kahane program — a first and two lasts: a world premiere, Mozart’s final piano concerto, and concluding with a work that some might consider beyond the scope of a chamber orchestra: Schubert’s Symphony No. 9. It might also be thought of as two firsts and a last, since this weekend marks LACO’s initial performances of Schubert’s “Great C-Major” Symphony.

Originally the program called for Christopher Cerrone’s premiere and the concerto to be the first half with the Schubert as the sole post-intermission work. However, as is often the case with today’s young composers, Cerrone’s 12-minute work — Will There Be Singing — came loaded with percussion instruments, so Kahane elected to open with the concerto and save Cerrone’s new piece until the second half. The idea was to make for more seamless logistics, but it didn’t work; Kahane had to wait a few moments while the final percussion instruments were removed and the trombones came scurrying onstage.

The only real problem was that this decision unbalanced the program from a timing point of view. The concerto lasted just under 30 minutes while the second half, including 10 minutes of congratulatory speeches and a bubbly encore, Johann Strauss Jr.’s Overture to Die Fledermaus, ran three times that long.

At any rate, the concerto — No. 27 in B-flat major, K. 595, the final piano concerto Mozart wrote and also the last one he played in public — proved to be the evening’s highlight, at least to this critic. Conducting from the keyboard, Kahane balanced his orchestral forces expertly and delivered a pristinely elegant performance of the solo part, reminding us all that he began his career as a prize-winning pianist and continues to play beyond that level.

Among Kahane’s many achievements Kahane has commissioned 30 new works, including 16 through LACO’s “Sound Investment” program. The 30th was Cerrone’s new piece, Will There Be Singing — in response to an email query as to why there was no question mark, he wrote: “I liked the slight ambiguity and rather don’t like punctuation in titles.”

It began with five minutes of ringing chords, continued with five minutes of minimalistic-style music that would have been appropriate for a movie sound track, and concluded with a couple of minutes that fused the two concepts together smartly. Kahane conducted the piece with vigor, the orchestra played it stylishly, and the audience gave the composer a warm reception when he came on stage.

During the past two weeks, Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic have led audiences through the first six Schubert symphonies (the last two are being played this weekend), showing how Schubert matured as a symphony composer even in just a few years.

Schubert’s early symphonies honor the music of Haydn, Mozart and, to a lesser extent, Beethoven, while Nos. 8 and 9 are more forward looking. In her program notes for last night’s concerts, Dr. Christine Lee Gengaro wrote of Schubert’s Symphony No. 9: “The grandeur of the [first] movement … prefigures the Symphony as it would be by later composers — Brahms, Bruckner and even Mahler.”

Kahane elected to emphasize Schubert’s looking-backward element last night, delivering a performance would have sounded perfect in a Viennese salon but which offered little (to these ears) that looked ahead to the Romantic-era composers spelled out by Gengaro. That’s a perfectly acceptable way of performing this work and, indeed, it seemed to accentuate appropriately the DNA of LACO’s 49-year existence.

Kahane was fully in command throughout last night — oddly enough, he used a score during the second and third movements but not in the first and fourth — delivering brisk tempos that brought the performance in at 48 minutes. The orchestra was at the top if its collective game, playing with elegant refinement that began with the wistful horn solos by Gabriel Kovach to open the work.

In the media release about this concert, Kahane said, “It is the hope of every music director to leave an orchestra in better shape than it was when he inherited it, and I believe that anyone who has known and loved LACO over the last few decades would resoundingly agree that this hope has come to fruition.”

It has, and we all have much for which to be grateful, not least is that Jeffrey will be staying in the area, maintaining ties with the ensemble and mentoring new artists as Professor of Keyboard Studies at the USC Thornton School of Music.

• This was the seventh LACO performance of Mozart’s K. 495 concerto. Others performances were led by Sir Neville Marriner in 1977, Gerard Schwarz in 1985, Christof Perick in 1989, Ignat Solzhenitsyn in 2007, and Kahane in 2008 as part of his cycle of all 27 concerti played during the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth.
• The printed program noted that since he became music director on July 19, 1997 Kahane has conducted 519 distinct musical works (172 from the keyboard), led 430 individual concerts, and given 154 chamber-music performances. That’s a tough legacy for his successor to follow (the search is ongoing).
• In his first concert as Conductor Laureate next March, Kahane will lead the orchestra, leading the orchestra in a program that includes the West Coast premiere of Pierre Jalbert’s Violin Concerto, with Concertmaster Margaret Batjer as soloist. The concerto is a LACC co-commission. Information: www.laco.org

(c) Copyright 2017, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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