By Robert D. Thomas
Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily News
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor
Saturday, September 20, 2014 at Glendale’s Alex Theatre
Patrick: Lines of the Southern Cross
Saint-Saëns: Piano Concerto No. 5 (Egyptian); Juho Pohjonen, soloist
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor.
Next performance: Tonight at 7 p.m. UCLA’s Royce Hall. Concert preview at 6 p.m.
Jeffrey Kahane took his audience on an around-the-world tour for the opening concert of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s 46th season last night in Glendale’s Alex Theatre. The itinerary included Australia by way of Southern California, Egypt via France and Finland, and Germany-Austria.
Kahane, beginning his 18th season as LACO’s music director, opened the program with the LACO-commissioned world premiere of Lines of the Southern Cross by 46-year-old Australia native Cameron Patrick, who now lives in Los Angeles.
The 15-minute, five-movement work for strings and percussion used sounds that replicated Aboriginal instruments — in his preconcert talk, Patrick explained that importing actual instruments would have been too difficult legally.
Patrick also employed “songline,” an aural map that describes geographical features, to paint evocative pictures of the wide-open Outback spaces (Lake Cootharaba, K’gari Coast and Nullabor Plain). The jazz-infused final section added a joyous counterpoint to the mystery. The audience responded with a thunderous standing ovation.
Prior to intermission, Kahane, the orchestra and Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen offered a scintillating performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 5. The only other time that LACO had programmed this last of the composer’s piano concertos was in 1985 when Gerard Schwarz was music director, Kahane was three years shy of making his conducting debut, and Pohjonen was age four.
Now a rising star in the piano firmament, Pohjonen displayed impeccable technique throughout Saturday night, particularly in his ultra-clean runs and trills. However what made this performance special were his exquisite shadings and musicality, especially in the second movement that gives the concerto its nickname, “Egyptian” (reportedly the composer heard that movement’s main theme being sung by boatmen while cruising down the Nile River). Kahane and the orchestra offered supple accompaniment throughout the performance.
After intermission, Kahane and his orchestra a brisk account of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. Like the concerto, this was just the second time that LACO has played this most familiar of Beethoven symphonies (the other time was in 2009) but Kahane conducted it from memory.
This performance also demonstrated Kahane’s savvy programming in broadening LACO’s repertory to include “larger” symphonies (as opposed to those of Mozart and Haydn, to name but two composers). Saturday night wasn’t a note-perfect performance but the 53 players approximated the size Beethoven would have used and, compared to a “full-sized” orchestra of 90 or so, played with a transparency that allowed many of the inner voices to shine through clearly.
• Prior to the performance, Kahane took the opportunity to salute Andrea Laguni, who has retired after 19 years as the orchestra’s general manager.
• In the preconcert talk, in addition to Kahane interviewing Patrick about Lines of the Southern Cross, Principal Oboeist Alan Vogel played Saint-Saëns’ Oboe Sonata, with Kahane accompanying at the keyboard.
• Most interesting item gleaned from Dr. Christine Lee Gengaro’s music notes: There was a 20-year-gap between Saint-Saëns fourth and fifth piano concertos. He wrote the Egyptian concerto in 1896 for the 50th anniversary of his debut at Paris’ Salle Pleyel when he was age 11.
• The next LACO orchestra concerts are Oct. 18 (at the Alex) and 19 (at UCLA’s Royce Hall). Douglas Boyd leads a program of George Benjamin’s At First Light; Mozart’s “Haffner” March and “Haffner” Serenade; and Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2, with Steven Isserlis as soloist. Information: www.laco.org
(c) Copyright 2014, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved. Portions may be quoted with attribution.