OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Music Director Jeffrey Kahane open new season

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; 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
(Royce Hall)

Information: www.laco.org

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55422-Kahane.jpg

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.

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Hemidemisemiquavers:

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.

 

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

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

______________________

 

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.