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Welcome Back: LACO at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Saturday, June 26 at 7:00pm

On Saturday, June 26, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra invited vaccinated supporters to gather at Walt Disney Concert Hall for a celebratory performance—a musical victory lap of sorts for having emerged from the pandemic’s deafening silence. The scheduled program was of a familiar LACO construction: something old, something new, something showy.

The Old: Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4, “Italian,” which closed the scheduled program, was performed with the incredible degree of precision and musical nuance we have come to expect from LACO. Music Director Jaime Martín has an incisive musical intuition for bringing unexpected details to the foreground of the music, which breathes new life into even the most well-known and loved works in the canon. Here was no exception, the intricate details of Mendelssohn’s rapidly-animated textures emerging in the spaces of longer melodic lines. As an accomplished performer himself, Martín brings a natural sense for stepping back and entrusting the musicians to do what they do best; the Mendelssohn, as a result, felt fresh and immediate, while always mantaining an unambiguous coherence.

Juan Pablo Contreras’s chamber arrangement of his orchestral work, Mariachitlán, roused the hall with an energetic juxtaposition of musical textures that drop the listener into the vibrant intersection of traditions, styles, and sounds of Guadalajara. An unmistakable tribute to mariachi  overlaps with passages evoking the guitar, soloistic moments for the brass, strings, and harp, and a startling whistle which initiates a chant for which the piece is titled. There is a romanticism and a grit to Mariachitlán that both performers and audience responded to: Contreras’s writing feels fun and serious, fractured and coherent, modern and traditional.

The program’s opening work, Variaciones Concertantes was the showy one. Written by the great Argentinian composer, Alberto Ginastera, in the middle of the 20th century, the work is beautiful, effective, and haunting, revealing a strong influence by Aaron Copland not only in its orchestration, but also in the personal approach to incorporating folk material. Principal Cello Andrew Shulman and harpist Elizabeth Zosseder performed a stunning and intimate duet that opens the work, which unfolded into episodes of lively, shimmering episodes that showcased most of the ensemble’s principal musicians including notable solos by Erik Rynearson (Principal Viola), Ken Monday (Principal Bassoon), Sandy Hughes (Acting Principal Flute), Claire Brazeau (Principal Oboe) and David Grossman (Principal Bass), among others. Concertmaster Margaret Batjer’s virtuosic performance on Variaciones was truly extraordinary, with impeccable musicianship and phrasing that enraptured the audience throughout the concerto-like violin solo. Martín managed the considerable technical aspects of Ginastera’s writing while threading the variations with a sense of continuous, fluid development that anchored the choreography of solos moving through the ensemble.

After the scheduled program, Martín returned to an enthralled audience to thank those supporters who made this year—and this concert—possible. A touching, personal flute performance by Martín of Telemann’s Cunando, accompanied by Shulman on cello, was followed by an upbeat performance of Gerónimo Giménez’s Intermedio de la Boda de Luis Alonzo by the ensemble. But I was particularly struck by the sincerity and depth of gratitude evident in the hall, not only from the musicians towards their audience of supporters, but from the audience towards their musicians. These two pillars of our music community, LACO and Walt Disney Hall, remind us that making art is not just entertainment. After a year of prolonged isolation, the immeasurable loss of loved ones, and a persistent sense of uncertainty, making art reminds us what we do still have, what we do still share. Seeing that reminder worn on the faces both on and off stage assigned real weight to the words we have been waiting to hear:

Welcome Back.

LACO’s second live performance since the pandemic will be happening on Thursday, July 1 at The Huntington in San Marino. The program includes the original 1915 version of de Falla’s extraordinary sung ballet El amor brujo conducted by Music Director Jaime Martín and featuring 

LA’s own celebrated mezzo soprano Suzanna Guzmán. Martín also leads Debussy’s iconic Prélude à “L’après-midi d’un faune” and the world premiere of KiMani Bridges’ The Flower. For more information go to www.laco.org

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