Before we officially close the book on “Festive 15,”(Jeffrey Kahane’s 15th anniversary season), I wanted to take a little time to reflect on LACO’s amazing collaborations from this past season. As a celebration of Jeffrey Kahane and his commitment to making music available to everyone, “Festive 15” included an unprecedented number of partnerships between individuals and organizations in the community. And to top it all off, LACO presented Play Me, I’m Yours, the single largest community-engagement project in our organization’s history.
In addition to the musicians, staff, volunteers and audience of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, we had a lot of help making this season extra special, from the community organizations that offered pre-concert activities at Family Concerts (American Contemporary Ballet, Autry National Center of the American West, California Science Center, Kidspace Children’s Museum, Pasadena Conservatory of Music, YMCA Glendale), to the schools and mentorships that shaped LACO soloists (The Colburn School, LA Opera Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program, USC Thornton School of Music Mentorship), we couldn’t have done it without a little help from our friends.
This list is only the tip of the iceberg, as I haven’t even mentioned the LA Phil, Pasadena Master Chorale, or the hundreds of community organizations and individuals that were a part of Play Me, I’m Yours. And this extensive list of Play Me, I’m Yours partners doesn’t even include all of the wonderful pianists that played at the Lunch Launch, the incredible media sponsors that spread the word like wildfire, and the amazing donors that made this program possible. And Play Me, I’m Yours wouldn’t have been a huge success without members of the community sharing their photos and videos with the world at streetpianosla.com!
And did you know that in addition to these programs, LACO underwrote transportation costs and concert tickets for dozens of school groups and social-service organizations, and brought more than 2,500 LAUSD students downtown to Zipper Hall to experience our Meet the Music educational programs?
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra strives to create musical experiences that connect and enrich our community, and we are so proud of the collaborations that helped celebrate great classical music in Los Angeles this year. So please join us in thanking all of the people and organizations that helped make Jeffrey Kahane’s 15th anniversary as LACO music director extra special.
On May 7, 2002, Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson held a news conference about practice.
“We’re sitting here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re talking about practice … not a game, not a game, but we’re talking about practice … it’s funny to me too, hey it’s strange to me too, but we’re talking about practice man, we’re not even talking about the game, when it actually matters, we’re talking about practice.”
If you didn’t catch the interview at the time or the many replays on sports stations this week commemorating its tenth anniversary, click here for a YouTube link that has received over 616,400 hits.
Almost exactly a decade later, on Sunday, May 6, at the final Family Concert of LACO’s 2011-12 season at the Alex Theatre, the topic of practice came up again, this time in Q&A with talented young pianist Ray Ushikubo. At ten years old, Ushikubo is the same age as Iverson’s famous rant.
“How long have you been playing the piano?” asks one child from the audience. “Five years,” answers Ushikubo as assuredly as he played the first movement from Mozart’s Piano Concert No. 5 with the Orchestra. A collective sigh ripples through the audience.
“How did you get so good so fast?” asks a second. “Practice,” answers Ushikubo, to more sighs and at least one audible groan.
“How long do you practice?” asks a third. It’s the logical next question, and there is a sharp collective intake of breath as every child, every mother, father, aspiring grandparent and doting aunt and uncle in the audience steels for the answer. “I practice three hours on the piano, three hours on the violin, and then I do homework for three hours. Every day.”
Gasps, some groans and then sustained applause. After all, we’ve just witnessed a superb performance by a very accomplished, confident, young boy who clearly had as much fun playing the concerto as we did listening to it. It takes talent, for sure, but if you want a career and success as a professional musician — or athlete –- then ironically, in the words of Allen Iverson, “We’re talking about practice.”
One of the things I love most about LACO is how they continually premiere new works. It’s fun and exciting to be part of the very first audience that gets to hear a new piece of music, and I felt that excitement again this past weekend, when LACO presented the west coast premiere of Gabriel Kahane’s Crane Palimpsest. If the name Kahane seems familiar to you, it’s probably because of LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane, who happens to be Gabriel’s father. The similarities don’t end with the name: In addition to a striking family resemblance, both Kahanes are extraordinarily gifted musicians, and Crane Palimpsest was one of the most unique pieces of music I’ve heard on the LACO stage. Here’s why:
Crane Palimpsest seemed to stretch the boundaries of orchestral music. Gabriel set poetry by Hart Crane about the Brooklyn Bridge to music, and it opens with creaks and strains, which sounded to me like the wind blowing through the bridge’s cables. The piece alternated between orchestral passages and more song-like passages, with Gabriel performing on both guitar and piano, and singing throughout. I’ll admit that I like the song parts a little more, and was intrigued by how Gabriel used the orchestra during those parts. I loved hearing sounds and noises that I couldn’t identify – it showed me that Gabriel was using instruments in different ways. All in all, it was thrilling to witness the birth of something new, and something unlike anything I’ve seen on the LACO stage.
Oh, and I learned a new word: palimpsest! It sounds like something nasty that would need to be removed by a doctor, but it’s actually a piece of music that features the layering of many different themes and melodies. The concert opened with another palimpsest, Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England. Jeffrey Kahane introduced this piece by commenting on how well Ives, as a composer, captured the American experience, although in a way that wasn’t highly regarded during his time (about a hundred years ago). Sure enough, while beautiful, the piece was rather unsettling, and I completely understand why Ives’ contemporaries may have thought he was a little loony. Each of the three movements is inspired by and named after a specific place, but based on this music, I wouldn’t want to visit any of them. Each movement was ominous and spooky. The second movement, which was the most boisterous by far, sounded like the soundtrack to an old-timey county fair, but one where nothing seems quite right: the ferris wheel is on the verge of crumbling; people go into the Tunnel of Love but never come out; the clowns’ make-up is a little too disturbing. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy Three Places In New England, because I did – it’s just wasn’t the sort of stuff you’d hear in a tourism commercial.
The theme of location-based music continued after the intermission, with a performance of Haydn’s 104th Symphony, which is called “London.” Part of this symphony (the third movement) seemed really familiar to me, although I don’t know why, and I interpret that as a sign that I’m actually learning something and retaining information from all these LACO concerts! Despite the familiarity, my attention wandered and wavered during the symphony. It was my least favorite part of the evening, although I appreciated how lively and precise it was.
And with that, LACO’s 2011-12 season is over. Only a few more months until the new season starts in the fall – and I’ll be back, blogging after every concert! Will you be joining me at the Alex Theatre or Royce Hall?
Gabriel Kahane has been said to do many things — cross genres, fuse pop and classical together, create the next generation of the musical — but no one can deny that the composer/performer has established himself as a creative force and unique voice in this brave new world of music.
He composes both classical and pop music, recently releasing Where are the Arms, his second pop music CD. Gabriel strays away from labels for his pop music as “classical-pop”, writing, “I have too much respect for the people writing what I consider to be “classical” music today to have my little pop confections considered as being in the same realm. This is not to say that I don’t think my pop music is of artistic value, but rather to say: let’s not kid ourselves by thinking that the presence of strings, woodwinds, and brass doth a classical record make.”
In a recent interview with KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen, Gabriel says he sees music today not as a world strictly segregated, but one where boundaries are crossed and sometimes where the dividing wall comes down. This is a movement that has occurred as far back as Bach, who included bawdy drinking songs in his Goldberg Variations and continued through Ives’s Three Places in New England (which LACO performs this weekend).
Gabriel’s most recent work, Crane Palimpsest, which receives its West Coast premiere under the baton of Gabriel’s father Jeffrey Kahane, attempts to explode the boundaries of pop music to the extent that the piece is no longer pop music, nor is it strictly classical. It juxtaposes selections from Hart Crane’s “To Brooklyn Bridge” with original text from Gabriel, trying to reconcile the two different styles through music. Gabriel uses a variety of instruments: piano, guitars, his voice and even beer bottles (LACO principal bass Nico Abondolo tests the bottles above) throughout the piece. Although commissioned by classical music ensembles, American Composer’s Orchestra and LACO, Crane Palimpsest does not strictly fall into the genre. Yet, it would not be perceived as pop music either. But, does music still need genres? Or, in our iPod age, have we reached the point of cross-genre composition creating not a new genre, but merely creating music to enjoy?
Listen-in as Gabriel discusses his style and compositional philosophy with Brian Lauritzen. And don’t forget to buy your tickets to this weekend’s performances.
Music is often a family business. J.S. Bach wasn’t the first Bach who was a musician, he just ended up being the most famous. And the musical line didn’t end with him; he went on to have a bunch of sons who went on to careers in music. In fact, if you peruse the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, you’ll find that many famous composers were just the most visible member of a family of musicians, composers, pedagogues, or instrument-makers.
The one great advantage of having music in the family is being surrounded by it for your entire life, living and breathing music from a very early age, and being around people who could teach you about it, or answer any questions you might have. Sometimes musical siblings are born to non-musical parents. But there’s something about their learning together that makes them special. Perhaps they collaborate with each other, play pieces together, maybe even compete, something that might give a player that extra edge to succeed (think Venus and Serena Williams).
Two composers on LACO’s upcoming program are the sons of musicians. Charles Ives’ father was a musician, a bandleader in the Civil War, and we all know what Gabriel Kahane’s dad does for a living. Ives’ father George played musical games with his son, and encouraged him to experiment with new sounds, with dissonance, and with polytonality. Ives’ musical voice was deeply influenced by his father. The history books haven’t written much about Gabriel Kahane’s familial influences yet, but we can imagine that growing up in a supportive musical environment, around some of the greatest living musicians, couldn’t have hurt!
Here are some other family affairs in music:
Beethoven’s dad was a choir director.
Many members of the Couperin family held the position of organist at the Church Saint-Gervais in Paris. One Couperin or another held the post for more than 170 years.
Franz Joseph Haydn had a composer brother, Michael, and another brother who was a singer (Johann Evangelist), but neither of their parents could read music, although their father could play and sing folk songs.
Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn were brother and sister who wrote music. Felix went on to great fame as a composer, and even though as children some people thought Fanny had the greater gift, she chose a traditional life of marriage and motherhood. Music remained a part of her life, however, although not in a professional sense.
Wolfgang and Maria Anna “Nannerl” Mozart were brother and sister, born to Leopold Mozart, a composer and musician. Once Nannerl got old enough to marry, she was not permitted to continue on pursuing music. We all know what happened to Wolfgang.
The brothers Anton and Nikolai Rubenstein were both pianists, and each of them opened a Conservatory in Russia.
Violinist Itzhak Perelman has a daughter, Navah, who is a pianist.
The Boulangers, Lili and Nadia, came from a musical family. Their grandfather was a cellist their grandmother a singer. Their parents were also musical. Lili won the prestigious Prix de Rome when she was just nineteen years old (the first woman to receive the award). She died in 1918 at the age of twenty-four. Nadia, believing her gift for writing was not as great as Lili’s, turned instead to teaching and conducting. Nadia Boulanger was a much sought-after educator, and was the first woman to conduct many orchestras in the U.S. and Europe.
Tomorrow at noon across Los Angeles County 30 pianists sit down at 30 pianos and perform Prelude No.1 from Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book One. A flash mob of sorts, the performance officially launches the Play Me, I’m Yours festival brought to Los Angeles and hosted by LACO with the participation of 30 site hosts across the county. LACO’s own Jeffrey Kahane participates in the launch at California Plaza in Downtown LA at a piano decorated by the Braille Institute of Los Angeles. This unique public arts project originated as the brain child of British artist Luke Jerram and has traveled around the world, with pianos in London, New York, Sydney and Barcelona. LACO proudly launches the first Los Angeles instillation of Play Me, I’m Yours which features 30 pianos throughout the county at sites such as Santa Monica Pier, Torrance Cultural Arts Center and City Hall in Downtown LA that are available 24/7 over three weeks for the public to enjoy, play, watch a performance and/or organize an outing.
Sounds interesting and like a lot of fun, right? But before you go out and find the piano nearest you at streetpianosLA.com, learn a little about how the project came to be.
Three weeks of art throughout Los Angeles is the product of over eight months of planning and contributions from a cadre of artists, LACO staff, funders and site hosts.
LACO conceived of the Los Angeles instillation of Play Me, I’m Yours as the perfect tribute to music director Jeffrey Kahane who celebrated 15 years with the Orchestra this season. The project expresses Kahane’s maxim that music belongs to everyone and its creation should be enjoyed by the general public in their communities, not just in the concert hall. In order to bring this idea to fruition the LACO team, helmed by director of advancement Lacey Huszca and project coordinator Sandra Chien, worked over eight months searching for pianos, looking for artists to decorate the pianos, coordinating site hosts for the pianos during the three week run and locating storage for the pianos while they were prepared for the outdoors.
Pianos were procured from across the county through the assistance of Hollywood Piano Company and requests for proposals from artists and site hosts were distributed. The project moved forward in earnest and LACO gained momentum to launch Play Me, I’m Yours. Once a LACO team selected the artists, among whom were muralist Kent Twitchell, Chicano artist Frank Romero, graffiti artist Man One and composer/pianist Timothy Andres, the pianos were distributed for decoration and started rolling back into the LACO offices for storage. Even the children of LACO’s musicians pitched in, decorating their own piano now located at Glendale Community College.
LACO’s staff had the unique privilege of being the first to care for, play and enjoy the pianos –- click here for a photo stream of all the pianos at the LACO offices waiting for their new homes and check out executive director Rachel Fine performing on the piano painted by Crossroads School which is now at the Santa Monica Pier.
While in storage, the pianos were tuned, and in some cases repaired – we even found an earring, fitted with cables to fix them to their locations and affixed with protective coverings for the rain. See below to watch a piano being tuned.
Soon the hulking instruments were ready to move to their site hosts across the county. Over three days this week the pianos left the building and were installed . . . and almost immediately people started to play!
It has proven quite to journey, bringing old pianos back to life for this special project. But every moment was worth the sheer joy as people stumbled across the pianos, sat down and started to play…or try to as these children did at Plaza del Valle.
Visit streetpianosLA.com to find the nearest piano to you and join LACO for the official launch tomorrow at noon. Or, coordinate your own outing…after all you should play them, they’re yours.
I love when when people I admire on TV turn out to possess the same vibrant, joyous energy in real life as I’ve seen on my screen. That was the case last night with chef Susan Feniger, the special guest at LACO’s final Westside Connections concert of the season. I’ve watched Feniger on TV for years – I tuned into her Two Hot Tamales cooking show on Food Network during my college years, and watched her compete on Top Chef: Masters two years ago. It’s been a while since I’ve dined at one of her restaurants (I enjoyed a few meals at Cuidad before it was rebranded as the downtown location of Border Grill), but as a food lover (and a food TV fanatic), I’ve known who Susan Feniger was for well over a decade. Her enthusiasm and passion always stood out, and when she radiated those same qualities from the podium at the Broad Stage, I found myself beaming from ear to ear. Turns out she wasn’t the only one on the stage radiating those two qualities, and that too was no surprise.
The theme of this year’s Westside Connections concerts was an exploration of food and music, and Feniger spoke twice during the evening, recounting memories from childhood of specific musicians being played during her family’s dinners. Music has been a key component throughout her professional career, too – and her story about a 9-hour music-fueled effort to glaze a tandoori oven perfectly illustrated that point. Susan also drew an extended comparison between how chefs and composers work: from the tools they used to build their complex dishes or symphonies, to the careful, precise layering that has to happen for it to come together perfectly.
What was most wonderful about Feniger’s time on stage was that it was abundantly clear that she loved what she did, with every fiber of her being, and it truthfully seemed that this event challenged her to take a look at her passion in a new way.
The musical portion of the evening, executed by LACO’s equally passionate and enthusiastic musicians, was anchored by Ravel’s String Quartet in F major. It’s apparently one of the masterpieces of the quartet catalog, although this untrained ear was certain he had never heard it before. The second movement, though, sure seemed familiar… it was stuck in my head for the drive home, and I racked my brain trying to figure out where I had heard it before… and then, just blocks from my house, it all clicked into place: it’s currently being used in a huge series of commercials for a genealogy company! See for yourself by clicking here. I knew my endless hours of TV consumption (don’t judge) would come in handy.
The quartet was beautiful – one of those pieces I want to hear again and again (I’ve already downloaded a recording for my iPod) – as was the Saint-Saëns Fantaisie for Violin and Harp. I’ve been to LACO concerts featuring the harp before, but this was the first one where it (and JoAnn Turovsky, the harpist) were alone onstage with just one other instrument (a violin, played by Tereza Stanislav). A lot of harp music sounds ethereal to me, and the Fantaisie was no exception, so I really appreciated when the piece took a more mournful, somber turn, as I got to hear the harp in a more unfamiliar way.
The third selection in the program was Martinu‘s La Revue de Cuisine, which was labeled a jazz suite, although it didn’t sound very jazzy to me. I’m not saying it wasn’t an interesting and entertaining piece of music, because it was; it just seemed oddly named, although this is coming from a guy who admittedly knows jack squat about music. My favorite movement was the third, which was a lively Charleston – a dance I learned for a school concert in 6th grade. Ahhh, memories! From my vantage point, I could watch the trumpeter, Darren Mulder, most clearly, and I saw him use devices that I later learned were called mutes – inserts into his horn that alter (and, I suppose, mute) the sound that’s produced. Hardly a LACO event goes by without me learning something!
I don’t know why it’s taken me 6 paragraphs to mention another highlight of the evening: Susan Feniger brought her Border Grill food truck! I got to the concert early and ate two fantastic tacos (one was pork with pickled onion and orange salsa, the other citrus chicken with tomatillo) and some of the best ceviche I’ve ever had. Note to LACO: book more food trucks at your concerts. There’s certainly room for one in the Alex Theatre courtyard (although I’m not sure it would fit under the marquee).
The evening left me with one big question… What’s the theme of Westside Connections going to be next year? Because this untrained ear is already excited for more. You’ll find me in line at the food truck.
Growing up, music was a constant in Susan Feniger’s life; her parents loved all the classic singers — Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald. It has always offered her time for introspection and tonight she shares those moments with the Westside Connections audience.
But before the concert, click here to listen in to Feniger’s conversation with KUSC’s Brian Lauritzen, as she discusses quintessential LA food, breaking culinary rules and her life with food. Feniger reveals her early days as a chef and the journey she took to discover her passion for the culinary arts.
The latest LACO podcast proves a tantalizing amuse-bouche for tonight’s performance — tickets are still available to the final installment of LACO’s delectable 2011-12 chamber music series.
With April Fools Day just around the corner, I was reminded of Mozart’s “A Musical Joke.” I particularly like this youtube video that shows the score (written for two horns and string quartet) and helps us pick out some of the subtler oddities of the piece.
Take for instance the first movement, where the first phrase seems perfectly fine as a statement of the theme, but as the piece progresses the theme fails to evolve and develop, both tonally and rhythmically. By the third or fourth nearly-identical iteration of the phrase, laying heavily on rhythmic unison, we eventually arrive at a false ending that lingers on, only to lead into yet another unison f-major chord. And once we DO reach the end of the movement (on an f-major chord) how does the second movement start? You guessed it – an f-major chord. Oh, that crazy Mozart, showing us how boring music can be when it lacks that certain finesse of a master composer.
The piece continues on with accidental sharps and flats that don’t belong (especially with the trumpets around 5:25), making the performers sound inept. My memory of watching this piece performed live is the trumpet players cringing to show they knew it was going to sound “wrong.”
Fast forward to the last three chords (eek!) and you get the picture. But why is this supposed to be funny? Why would Mozart take the time to write something “bad” or something that doesn’t represent his best work?
Scholars call it “satire” – in this case, using public ridicule or shame to force an ideological change or improvement. “A Musical Joke” was meant to be constructive criticism and to be funny, and I am sure it both ruffled some feathers AND motivated Mozart’s contemporaries to strive to his level. In turn, it helped train audiences to identify sloppy music-making and appreciate a well-written, well-performed piece (like Mozart’s) when they heard one.
Mozart’s sense of humor might not be the best way to prank your friends this Sunday, but since Mozart’s time there have been plenty of musical jokes, song parodies, blending of musical styles and other fun musical shenanigans. How are you celebrating April Fools’ Day? Any good “musical jokes” to share?
Thursday night was an evening of firsts for yours truly. It was the first time I’ve been to the beautiful Broad Stage in Santa Monica, it was the first time I’ve been to one of LACO’s Westside Connections concerts, and it was the first time I’ve heard all the pieces in this particular LACO program. To be truthful, it was the first time I’ve ever even heard of one of the composers (and I’m thankful for the introduction), but I’ll get to that in a little bit. First, I should take a second to applaud LACO for their programming ingenuity. This is the second consecutive LACO concert I’ve been to (the first was their Discover Bach’s Magnificat a few weeks ago) that was designed around making orchestral music accessible and revelatory. While Discover Bach’s Magnificat focused on the history and context of one piece of music, last night’s Westside Connections concert wove together a series of pieces under a theme of exploring the connection between music and the culinary arts, and the result was a joyous, intimate, and thoughtful evening.
The special guest was food critic Jonathan Gold, who spoke at the beginning of the evening about how, as a writer, he often relies on the language of music to describe the complex flavors in the dishes he’s eating. He also made some astute comments about the similarities in making food for someone else and playing music for someone else – they’re both personal, multisensory experiences with no equal. He returned later in the evening to share one of his essays, a funny rumination on Spam and its role in kitchens and restaurants across the world.
There was also lovely music – this was a concert, after all – and all of was performed by just a handful of musicians: first a quintet, then a vocalist accompanied by a pianist, then a solo performance by a composer/pianist, and then a sextet. The first half of the concert featured pieces that were literally about, or inspired by, food.
First up was part of a Bach cantata called “I eat with joy”, sung in German by soprano Elissa Johnston, and I’m sure it was lovely, but most of Bach (including this piece) isn’t my cup of tea, so I was kinda waiting for what came next.
What came next was a whimsical song cycle by Leonard Bernstein called La Bonne Cuisine, in which Johnston sang recipes for four different dishes. If that description sounds bizarre on paper, it’s because, well, the piece is bizarre! What I loved most is that it shows how far recipes have come in the past 100 years. La Bonne Cuisine is a seminal French cookbook from the ’20s, and while we’re used to recipes having exact measurements, that’s wasn’t always the case. One recipe that Johnston sung advices the cook “boil flour and water, and add to it the chicken,” while another says to add “some pepper and salt” – how much of any of these things are anybody’s guess!
I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’m not that familiar with much of William Bolcom’s music – and I should be, because I’m a graduate of the University of Michigan, where he taught for over thirty years (including the entire time I was there) – and I’m pretty sure I met him at some campus event or other. Well, I can now say I’m familiar with his Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise, which Johnston sung next – a funny, clever strange little song about the horrendous dishes a ladies group brings to their social events. If the dish in the title doesn’t make you lose your appetite, than perhaps the “Walnut loaf that’s crowned with melted cheese” will. Or, my personal favorite, “strawberry ice, enshrined in rice, with bits of tuna fish.” Bon Appetit!
The final piece before Gold’s Spam essay was a piano solo called “Sorbet” that was performed by its composer, Timothy Andres. At first I didn’t know what to think of its repetition and dissonant moments, but the piece won me over – it was charming and engaging, and I loved that Andres’ sheet music was downloaded onto his iPad! Yep, there’s an app for that.
The second half of the concert was a lively, staggering performance of Dohnanyi’s Sextet in C major. This is the composer I’ve never heard of before – and I don’t think I’d be able to pronounce his name correctly if a gun was pointed at my head. It was astounding how just six instruments (piano, violin, viola, cello, clarinet, and horn) could sound so lush and full and fill the auditorium with such power. This is a piece of music I could listen to again and again – and I will, because I just downloaded a recording of it from iTunes and added it to my iPod.
Thank you, Westside Connections curator Margaret Batjer and LACO, for introducing me to this exceptional piece of music, and for a fantastic evening at Westside Connections! I can’t wait for the third and final concert of the series, with special guest Susan Feniger, on April 5!
Will I see you there?
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