On October 27th, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra brought a program of Sibelius, Pärt, Grieg and Nielsen to Glendale’s Alex Theatre. Led by conductor Thomas Dausgaard, the ensemble sounded exceptional—crisp and intimate, but equally able to swell and saturate the hall when needed. Starting the evening with Grieg’s Two Norwegian Airs, Dausgaard demonstrated an immediate and deep connection with the strings, weaving together moments of drama and restraint with impeccable taste and timing. The musicians of LACO must have felt similarly because they met his every move with astounding cohesiveness, not only in the opening airs, but throughout the entire night.
Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto featured Anthony McGill, who brought so much personality to his performance that it was easy to miss the incredible amount of virtuosity required to navigate the clarinet passages. Compositionally, the Nielsen was the most difficult, not so much for its instrumental passages as for its disparate and sometimes confusing layering. But the soloist and ensemble approached even the most impervious moments with a sense of ownership and direction, and as a result the piece offered a fun, if challenging, display of McGill’s incredible technique and musical intuition.
In the second half, Dausgaard (I assume) made the decision to move seamlessly from the patient, meditative iterations of Pärt’s Silouan’s Song into Sibelius’s Symphony No. 3 with such conviction that most of the audience was moved to applaud at the end of the first movement of the symphony assuming the Pärt had contained some hidden inner movement. But the applause was well-justified if misplaced, as the strength of the shared musical ideas between conductor and ensemble was as strong and tight as any I’ve heard. Moreover, the ensemble inhabited the sound world of each piece with an easy confidence that highlighted what a traditional programming format can be at its best: old and new, refined and showy, serious and fun. It was each of those things, with each work standing on its own—greater than the sum of its parts, but not built around supporting a single centerpiece. Had any single piece not been performed so brilliantly, the same program might have felt passively formulaic. Instead it made the case for the formula.