Saturday’s opening concert inagurated a new era at Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra—one not only marked by a new conductor in Jaime Martín, but also a season that feels almost startlingly fresh in everything from its commissioning projects to its slick new logo and updated website.
The season opened with the first installment of an Andrew Norman commission, aptly titled Begin. Norman’s writing was, expectedly, sensitive and immensely creative, with hocketing lines across the orchestra dissolving into a timbral stew before swirling and bubbling up into moments of coalescence. Norman’s particular brand of magic is creating a sense of impossible inevitability from even the most exploratory ideas, and Begin was no exception, arriving at intense, coordinated thrusts of sound that seem somehow simultaneously unimaginable and unavoidable. Like with his recent Sustain, in Begin Norman shows incredible maturity and restraint, always leaving a hint of his material devolving back into chaos. The orchestration was especially effective in articulating the drama of the piece, with quiet moments smeared thinly across the stage while tutti gestures are brought forward with thick, rich resonance; a conversational approach which helped reinforced the spirit of a concerto for chamber orchestra.
The performance by LACO was so lively and convincing that a newcomer might well have wondered what Berlioz and Beethoven were doing on the program of a new music ensemble. Anne Sofie von Otter was charming, but the Berlioz (and encores) that concluded the first half were effective, if unexceptional. Martín managed the balance with von Otter’s soft mezzo-soprano voice quite well, lending the piece an easy nonchalance, and from a programming perspective, it was a sensible choice to follow the Norman (and seemed to resonate with many in the audience). Musically, though, it did not showcase the ensemble’s technical or musical potential, save a few of the cycle’s softest moments.
The performance of Beethoven Symphony No.7, on the other hand, was extraordinary. Martín brought his experience in the woodwinds section to his interpretation, bringing out Beethoven’s subtle lines and details as they move through the orchestra with incredible clarity. The work was precise and raucous, intimate and boisterous—all the dramatic contradictions that make Beethoven, well, Beethoven. And it was in this performance that Martín really showed the musical sensitivity that is his own magic, each adjustment he showed from the podium elicited a (somehow) more perfect music. From the minute details to the overarching form, LACO and Martín’s performance on the Beethoven was simply exquisite, and might be the best performance of it I have ever heard, live or recorded.
There are small things I could critique: the position of the second violin section really needs to be adjusted slightly to face the audience as they were much too quiet, and their sound, even when it cuts through, is muffled from being angled back towards the orchestra. The lack of young (or even middle-aged) audience members is also concerning, though LACO seems to be doing their part to reach out to younger audiences, and the Royce Hall performances certainly attract more young people to attend. But overall, what we learned from Saturday’s performance is that under Martín, LACO is an ensemble capable of making new works feel like established classics, and established classics feel brand new. Paired with an administration which is proving to have a nuanced understanding of the LA music scene and a real plan for the future, LACO is certainly the organization to watch this season.
LACO Welcomes Jaime!
Jaime Martín, Conductor
Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-soprano
September 28th, 8:00 pm at Glendale’s Alex Theater
September 29th, 7:00pm at Royce Hall
*See LACO.org for more information on open rehearsal, reception, and pre-concert festivities in honor of the opening of the season
On September 28th, flute virtuoso and conductor Jaime Martín will officially take the baton as Music Director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. LACO is one of the institutions at the heart of the Los Angeles music scene, balancing excellent traditional programming with the commissioning of new works and a wildly adventurous SESSION series. The commencement of Martín’s role is, on the surface, a sensible import of the European tradition for an ensemble which shines in that repertoire—and certainly, this season does not shy away from tried-and-true major works, nor from utilizing Martín’s relationships with world-class soloists like Anne Sofie von Otter and Christian Tetzlaff. But there is more to this appointment than simply a conductor with deep ties to the global classical music scene: Martín is a sensitive and curious leader, whose passion for collaboration is already coming into focus for LACO. And in a moment when Los Angeles has an abundance of musical talent, creativity and energy, this combination might make Martín just the person to harness west-coast excitement into world-class refinement.
In anticipation of LACO’s opening concerts on September 28th and 29th, I was able to sit down with Martín to talk about his appointment as Music Director. He is charismatic and energetic, and he speaks about the ensemble and Los Angeles with a genuine spark in his eyes. Over the course of our conversation, the importance of relationships, trust, and freedom in his music-making emerged as clear through-lines. Looking at the programs and music of this coming season, you get the sense that these are not just ideals, but foundational to the way he engages with and creates music.
With his background as a performer, it is natural that Martín treats his role at the podium with a deep sense of trust for the musicians in front of him. One of the things he values most, he says, is “if the musicians tell me after the concert that they had the feeling of being free; that they feel I let them breathe with the music.” And with a chamber orchestra of LACO’s caliber, that freedom has created some wonderful moments, already, under Martín’s baton. “There are no passengers in an orchestra, everybody is driving in a way,” Martín explains–and this core belief is evident in his responsiveness while leading the musicians, as well as in his commitment to bring world-class soloists and commission works to celebrate the ensemble.
Which brings us to another facet of Martín’s relationship-building: Composers. Besides an impressive lineup of soloists, the new works presented this season include the beginning of a prolonged collaboration with Andrew Norman, a commission and SESSION curation for Missy Mazzoli, and collaborations with Juan Pablo Contreras, Christopher Rountree, and Derrick Spiva Jr., among others. An emphasis on Los Angeles talent is clear, but the half-dozen commissions (one for each of the six concerts Martín will conduct this season) articulate an overall support for living composers that itself feels Angeleno at heart. Of course, placing new works alongside staples of the canon risks the forced, awkward juxtapositions that other orchestras have tried in recent years, where intermission is marked by donors leaving and students arriving. But somehow LACO’s 2019-2020 program feels genuine in putting forth new and established works with equal esteem.
This sense of genuineness comes in part from an emphasis on building longer-term relationships with composers like Norman, Reid and Mazzoli, who are already becoming widely accepted as worthy companions to the great masters of old. But the intent to find and support new masterworks is also a broader impulse on Martín’s part, who hates the word “routine,” and sees what is happening in Los Angeles right now as a unique opportunity to bring great new works forward:
I don’t think we need to find excuses to program. We have to make people excited and curious; I think that is the starting point. In the end, the ideal situation is when you create a relationship of trust with the audience. Then, that audience looks at the program in five years and maybe they don’t recognize any of the pieces, but they say “you know what, I’m going to go because if they’re performing that, it must be worth listening to—and maybe I’ll be surprised!” If we could achieve that, it would be fantastic. But you cannot demand that trust, you have to earn it.
The opening concert of the season is a clear signal of Martín’s seriousness about earning this trust: Andrew Norman—a Los Angeles composer who probably knows LACO better than any other—will premiere the first part of a three-year collaboration with the orchestra, alongside Berlioz’ Les Nuits d’été (featuring renowned mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter), and Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Fusing old and new, local and global, this season at LACO is poised to pick up the baton left by the LA Phil’s astonishing centennial season, and in doing so, it may help define the livewire that is the Los Angeles music scene today.
You read it right, folks. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is premiering a new piece by Gabriel Kahane on Saturday and Sunday at the Alex Theatre and Royce Hall (and performing Ives’ Three Places in New England – YES), and we’ve got a pair of tickets to give away. To enter, just retweet the following tweet (yes, you have to be on Twitter):
The winner will be picked at random on Friday at 11 AM. Cool?
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is up to it again, and have partnered up with artist Luke Jerram to present Play Me, I’m Yours, a city-wide, interactive music/art installation thing. Here’s the official lingo:
Touring internationally since 2008, Play Me, I’m Yours is an artwork by artist Luke Jerram. For three weeks beginning April 12, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra brings Play Me, I’m Yours to Los Angeles. Thirty pianos, designed and decorated by local artists and community organizations, are featured across Los Angeles County and are available for everyone to play, in celebration of acclaimed conductor and pianist Jeffrey Kahane’s 15th anniversary as LACO music director. Visit laco.org to learn more about Jeffrey and the Orchestra.
Join us at the piano nearest you on April 12 at 12 noon for the “lunch launch” of Play Me, I’m Yours. Thirty pianists kick off the installation with a simultaneous play-in of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier at all 30 pianos. After that, the pianos are available to you and any member of the public to play and enjoy.
A map of the pianos’ locations, and some more info, is available at streetpianos.com/la2012. I for one definitely want to go play the one on Santa Monica Pier at some point throughout the shindig.
LACO’s concert this past Saturday night at the Alex Theatre featuring West Coast premieres from composer-in-residence Derek Bermel and Argentine megastar (in some circles) Osvaldo Golijov was a serious kicker of a season opener.
Maestro Jeffrey Kahane, who is celebrating his 15th year as LACO’s music director, opened the show with a surprisingly energized and bold sounding Overture from The Magic Flute. For a piece we’ve all heard a million times (and I wasn’t particularly excited to hear again), Jeff and the LACO cats breathed some serious new life into it.
I had brought a few friends who dig modernism but find most traditional classical music really dull, and they both said that it might have been the best performed piece of the night, and that they were totally into it. LACO 1, 99% of period instrument ensembles 0.
Golijov’s Sidereus was probably the highlight of the evening, although it didn’t overshadow Bermel’s Ritornello for a moment. The Golijov managed a bit of a post-minimalist, almost Inception-soundtrack-Hans Zimmer sound at times, with descending seventh chord arpeggios in the upper strings, but modal lines in the winds and constantly changing textures kept the piece interesting. Some particularly exciting downbeat-heavy brass polyrhythms toward the climax really carried the piece across the line from “well that was cool” to “where can I get a recording?”
Possibly the most impressive thing about it was Kahane’s handling of the rhythm. I’ve always thought of him as a colorist. He’s very sensitive to balance, and lets everything breathe, but I couldn’t personally imagine enjoying him doing, say, Rite of Spring. After this past Saturday I’d certainly like to hear it.
The Bermel, with Wiek Hijmans on electric guitar, may have been the stylistic high point of the evening. Most electric guitar concertos fail miserably, in that composers use sounds that are so idiomatic of the electric guitar – bent strings, chunky power chords, etc. – that the pieces sound totally forced, almost like a show of “look at me, I know how to rock too!” Such was not the case with Bermel’s Ritornello. If anything, he managed to find the perfect blend between the guitar and the ensemble, with the guitar’s broken triplet pattern being perfectly backed by the perfectly tonal harmonies outlined in the strings.
Hijmans is an excellent improviser – downright inspiring – and Bermel certainly gave him room to play. In what may have been good taste, Hijmans kept his improvisations short and to the point. I would have enjoyed it a bit more if he had extended his solo sections a bit further, but that was in no way detrimental to enjoying the piece.
The second half, Beethoven’s 4th piano concerto, saw Kahane return to his colorist self. There’s no doubt about his abilities as a virtuosic pianist, and it is great to see him conduct from the keyboard, but I felt that the performance lacked the punch and boldness it really needed to carry it over the edge. The audience dug it though, and called him back for an extended encore. Mark Swed over at the LA times seemed to think it rocked a little harder than I did, so read his review too.
LACO’s got a few cool concerts coming up. The next one we’ll be covering here is December 10th, which will feature some music from Brit boy-genius Thomas Adès. If the season opener is any indication of things to come, I’m excited already.
Tonight KPCC and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra present Plugged in at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, as part of their Campus to Concert Hall program. From KPCC’s site:
Get “plugged in” to the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra with a performance by Wiek Hijmans on electric guitar, LACO Sound Investment composer Timothy Andres on piano, and LACO composer-in-residence Derek Bermel on clarinet. The trio will explore the reaches of 21st century musical creativity in a free performance as part of the Campus to Concert Hall program. Embrace and celebrate the connection between musicians, audiences and community.
KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum plays host to the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra on Tuesday, September 20th at 8pm, as they bring a creative, accessible and timely performance to audiences free of charge with a post-concert Q&A and reception with the artists.
Admission is free, but RSVP is required.
This appears to be part of the build up for LACO’s September 24th and 25th concerts, which will feature west coast premieres by Golijov and Bermel. Bermel’s piece is for electric guitar and orchestra, and, as you may have guessed, Wiek Hijmans will be the soloist.
To RSVP and for more details, visit the event page on KPCC’s website.