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Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra blog
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As we approach the Silent Film on May 23 at Royce Hall, buzz about this great event is beginning to hit the media and we don’t want you to miss a beat!

Today (May 14), Larry Mantle will be interviewing Silent Film Co-Chairman Roger L. Mayer live on KPPC’s AirTalk. Tune in to 89.3 FM at 11:40 am. Or if you’re reading this tonight and missed the broadcast, you can listen to it streaming on KPPC’s AirTalk online.

Elsewhere on the radio, an interview with Roger Mayer on his affection for film preservation and what this project means to him will be running on 1260 am KGIL and KJAZZ 88.1 fm in the upcoming week, and will be available on both of their websites. You can hear a portion of this interview on the LACO podcasts.

This weekend’s issue of the LA Times will feature an article on composer and conductor Timothy Brock, who will lead LACO in the world premiere performance of his original score to Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman at the event. Brock will also conduct LACO in a performance of Alexander Rannie’s score to Alice’s Wild West Show, a rarely seen 1924 Disney short.

Finally, be sure to pick up the current issue of Los Angeles magazine to see the beautiful full page ad for the Silent Film (and on the opposite page, a very nice ad for this weekend’s Great Romantics concert).

We can’t wait, and are looking forward to seeing you on Sunday, May 23!

3 years ago | |
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On May 7, we posted a new podcast featuring the Q and A from the final Baroque Conversations concert of our season, which you can listen to here. I was asked to write a brief blog entry to inform our readers that it had been posted, but today I’d like to do a little more than that. I’d like to talk about podcasting in general, so that you can get the most out of this extremely powerful and enjoyable broadcast medium.

Although podcasts may sound like old news to the twenty-something techies eagerly awaiting news leaks from Apple, I find that when I mention I’m posting one to friends and family many people are unfamiliar with the format. Essentially, a podcast is a downloadable broadcast. Originally they were intended to be downloaded daily and loaded on to listeners’ iPods, as a sort of “radio on demand.” The files are mp3s, though, so they can be played on any digital audio player, or often streamed directly off of websites, such as ours.

In most cases, podcasts form a series, where you can download one a week, or daily, to listen to at your convenience. On our site, we have four series available for download. Baroque Conversations, Westside Connections, and our Orchestral Series all have their own podcasts, and we often also podcast our Concert Preludes, the pre-concert talks and events that happen an hour before each Orchestral Series concert.

You can also click RSS on the podcast page, to have your computer or whatever program you use for RSS feeds automatically download new podcasts as they’re released.

So what’s in it for you? Ultimately, it’s all sorts of entertaining and informative content related to our concerts and the music we play here at LACO. Interviews with musicians and composers, recordings of pre-concert talks, Q and A sessions with audiences and performers, previews of upcoming events…it’s all there for free, with no subscription required, and bringing it to you is one more way for us to make great music personal.

3 years ago | |
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I have a file cabinet that holds a bunch of papers from when I was a student. I have term papers and bibliographies. I have analyses of music, syllabi, theory assignments, and handouts. I keep everything in case I need to use the information in my capacity as a teacher. I certainly don’t expect these papers to be important to anyone else, and I’m not keeping them for posterity. But imagine that in the course of my life, I become a famous writer/musicologist, and after my death my family bequeaths this file cabinet worth of stuff to the archives of my alma mater. Imagine that in this stack of papers some historian unearths an early term paper and declares it a lost masterpiece, and publishes it.

Now, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to care about my term papers after my death, but it’s not unheard of for schoolwork to later become important, especially if the student turns out to be Georges Bizet. Bizet’s Symphony in C, on LACO’s upcoming program almost disappeared from history because the composer never sought a publisher for it. It was likely written as an assignment for the Paris Conservatory. Perhaps Bizet felt it wasn’t ready for publication, or perhaps, like me, he figured it was a school assignment that nobody would really care about, and put it in his files.

Bizet died at the age of 36. It is tragic for anyone to die in the prime of his life, but Bizet had shown such promise, and was just coming into his own mature style as a composer. His most famous work, the opera Carmen, hadn’t yet become the sensation it still is today. The work we now know as the Symphony in C could have died with Bizet. It might have been lost to history, but it was unknowingly saved by Bizet’s widow, Geneviève Halévy, whom Bizet had been married to for only six years at the time of his death. She donated his papers to the archives at the Paris Conservatory.

The papers sat there for decades. It was nearly sixty years later that someone realized that in this stack of assignments, letters, and sketches, there was a symphony. The piece was debuted in 1935 to great acclaim. This is yet anther story of the twists and turns that shape the canon of Great Music. There are dozens of them. I’ve mentioned a couple in this very blog. The symphony could have disappeared, and we’d never know what we were missing. But it wasn’t. It was saved almost by accident and certainly not on purpose. These are the kinds of stories that musicologists might trade around a campfire instead of ghost stories (if, you know, musicologists were big campers). It’s chilling to think how close we came to losing a masterpiece to the vicissitudes of life and history. It’s almost as chilling to think that our old term papers might someday see the light of day again.

3 years ago | |
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Since the last Westside Connections concert this season, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role that time plays in music. Unlike visual art, which is a static medium (you stand, you walk around, you look, you move on), music is as temporal as it is auditory. Length is as important as sound and the two can’t be separated. The hard-earned cadence at the end of Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, “Age of Anxiety” is so powerful because it takes so long to reach it; the time required to ascend to that point of such amazing beauty is as much responsible for the work’s ability to move audiences as the actual notes are. Just think of how underwhelming the last five minutes of the work would be if they were only preceded by two minutes of music – instead of the 35 that perfectly set up the release and reassurance you feel at the end of a hard-earned 40 minute journey. Writing music is a combination of finding sounds you want and discovering how much time you require to tell the story you hear in your head.

Funnily enough, as I’m writing this I’m listening to Q2, the online new-music arm of the venerable NYC classical music station WQXR, and the current programming description reads: “Like a journey, music happens in time. Music takes us places. It describes places. Music is a place.”

I just finished a really amazing graphic novel recommended to me by my wife – “Asterios Polyp” by David Mazzucchelli is about a modern architect going through a mid-life crisis, a spiritual crisis, a crisis of character. In one scene he meets an experimental composer who is quizzed by Polyp about music:
Q: It seems to me musical composition is either primarily rhythmic or primarily melodic.
A: Well, not necessarily. It could be about tonal resonance, or the texture of sound within, within waves or cycles. Simultaneity—the, the awareness of so much happening at once—is now the most salient aspect of contemporary life. In a cacophony of information, each listener, by focusing on certain tones and phrases, can become an active participant in creating a unique polyphonic experience.
Q: Aren’t you abdicating your responsibility as a composer?
A: No, no, not at all. I’m setting the conditions for a sonic expedition.

The point I’m lazily circling with all this is how powerfully Peter Sellars set the conditions for the sonic expedition that was the Schoenberg String Trio Op. 45 at the last Westside Connections concert. A difficult, very intense, harsh piece for violin, viola and cello, the String Trio uses time by almost making it stand still – you are listening to the work, you are experiencing the sounds, but you are also floating, unmoored to any sense of minutes passing. Sellars explored this idea in his remarks at the start of the concert, and eased the audience into a suspended state of extreme awareness of the music that was to come. The lights were dim, he spoke softly. He explained that the work was written in a flurry of activity after Schoenberg had suffered from a major heart attack that stopped his heart briefly, requiring a shot directly into his chest to resuscitate him. Sellars drew parallels between this limbo state, this constant pain and the uncertainty of recovery and the structure of the piece. The music is fragmented, the sounds coming out of the instruments are haunting. The work never stays anywhere too long and motives and ideas come back in radically altered forms – like memories and recollections – and pull you out of a sense of musical place and into a heightened emotional state. It is a work that is neither primarily rhythmic nor primarily melodic, but is instead best measured by how long it lasts, how long it is experienced in performance.

After the hypnotic introduction from Sellars, Tereza Stanislav, Roland Kato and Trevor Handy came onstage and played the Trio with amazing clarity, warmth and focus. Schoenberg can be a tough sell for listeners (to say the least), but this was a wildly successful performance, and one that sticks in the mind well after the concert has ended.

Isn’t this the sign of a successful work? The composer grabs you, shakes you, confuses you and ultimately makes you forget everything extraneous – he makes you focus only on the time you are spending inside the music.

Readers — any thoughts? Any pieces you can think of that take you out of time, even if only for a moment?

3 years ago | |
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In yesterday’s blog post we answered questions that children had submitted at the end of our Jokin’ Baroque Family Concert Sunday, May 2, 2010. A few of the questions were directed to specific musicians, and we’ve heard back and have the answers for you today.

Justin, a 6 year old from Pasadena, asked our concertmaster Margaret Batjer, “How many violins do you have? How many violins do you play with?” Margaret responds,

Dear Justin,

I own 2 violins. My main violin is an old Italian violin made by Stradivarius and Amati between 1688-1705. It is an incredible violin that I love. That is the violin that you heard me play on Sunday. Several years ago I asked a wonderful violin maker here in Los Angeles named Mario Miralles to make a copy of my violin so that I would have a spare violin. I am actually playing that new violin at a concert on Thursday. I can only play 1 violin at a time, but because I love my old violin so much I generally play it in concerts, but use my Miralles when I want a different kind of sound.

Thanks for coming to the concert!

Carissa, age 9 of Glendora, asked our lutenist and plucked-string extraordinaire John Schneiderman what inspired him to play the theorbo, an instrument in the lute family with 14 strings and a very low range. John writes,

Dear Carissa,

I started playing the ukelele at age five, and at age nine began on the banjo and the guitar. I became interested in Renaissance music and began playing the lute at age eighteen. My interest in other instruments of the plucked string family and my interest in baroque music eventually led me to the theorbo which has enabled me to play with larger ensembles such as the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra that requests the theorbo as part of the continuo section which also includes the harpsichord, organ, cello, bass and of course the archlute and the baroque guitar which are the other instruments I play with LACO.

Best wishes,

John Schneiderman

Read the answers to more questions in yesterday’s blog post

We look forward to seeing all of you at our Family Concerts next season, and answering more of your questions so that we can learn more about music together!

Have a question that can’t wait? Ask it in our comments section, and we will find you an answer!

3 years ago | |
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At our final family concert of the season, Jokin’ Baroque, some of our audience members had questions that they didn’t get to ask. We asked them to write down their questions so that we can answer them right here on the LACO blog.

Hailey, age 6 from Van Nuys asked, “Why are cellos lower than violins?” Well Hailey, the short answer is that cellos are lower than violins because they are bigger and the strings are longer. All instruments create sound by causing air to vibrate. The faster the air vibrates, the higher the pitch. So if an instrument has a really big body, long string or really long tube to blow into, the air takes longer to vibrate, and the sound is lower.

Sofia, age 6, from Los Angeles wanted to know how the orchestra stays in tempo with each other. Most of the time, a conductor will give the musicians a tempo using visual signs. Watch the conductor’s hands closely next time you see an orchestra, or look up a video online, and watch how his hands keep time with the music.

For smaller ensembles that don’t require a conductor, the musicians listen very closely to each other to stay in tempo together. Sometimes they will pick a leader to give the tempo, who will use non-verbal communication such as head motion or eye contact to keep everyone together. It takes a lot of practice!

Carissa, age 9, from Glendora asked where the theorbo, a string instrument with a very long neck, originated. The theorbo began to be used in Italy during the late 1500s, around the time that a group called the Florentine Camerata was holding regular meetings to discuss the direction music should take in the future. The great astronomer Galileo Galilei’s father was a member of that group, and a very well known musician and composer in his time. It’s amazing where music can take you!

A few of our young audience members asked questions directly to specific musicians in the Orchestra. We’ve forwarded those questions to the musicians, and their answers will be posted here soon, so check back!

3 years ago | |
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At each of our Family Concerts and Meet the Music events we hold a Q and A session between the kids in attendence and LACO musicians. Sometimes the audience is so excited that there are more questions than we have time for! When that happens, we invite them to submit their questions to us after the concert, and we’ll answer them right here on the Kid’s Eye View page of the LACO Blog.

Brenda asked if any of our musicians play different instruments. The answer is yes. In music school, nearly all students must demonstrate that they can play piano proficiently, and many must learn how to sight sing as well. That’s two right there. Outside of their school days, many of our musicians play different instruments for fun, or play different styles of music on their own instruments.

Marilyn asked if the musicians like Michael Jackson. Although I haven’t been able to ask all of them, I think the answer must be yes. The elements that make music great, such as melody, harmony and rhythm, can be used effectively in any type of music. Michael Jackson was truly a master of his craft, so whether or not our musicians listen to his music regularly, they certainly realize how great it is.

Mario asked if our musicians all went to college, and if they knew any famous composers. Everyone in our Orchestra studied very hard to become professional musicians. Many went to conservatories, or music schools, for their training, but others studied their instruments at universities. Many of our musicians have worked directly with composers to create new pieces. They’re all a bit young to have worked with Beethoven, Mozart, and the great masters of the past, but there’s a lot of wonderful music being written today!

3 years ago | |
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Last weekend, LACO said goodbye to long-time principal bass Susan Ranney. The performances on April 17 & 18 will be Susan’s final as the principal bass of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra – and she will be missed!

In Sunday’s LA Times, Rick Schultz reviewed LACO’s Jupiter concert.

Schultz writes, “On Saturday, LACO offered a program of two works each by Stravinsky and Mozart. In the opening Concerto in D major for String Orchestra by Stravinsky, the ensemble deftly handled the composer’s characteristic harmonic pungency and bracing rhythms. Kahane took a Romantic approach to this late (1947) Neo-Classical piece.

...Before pianist Jeremy Denk appeared for Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments, Kahane explained the score’s “jarring moments” by noting that the concerto, written in 1924, partly reflected the composer’s reaction to World War I. Stravinsky wanted no expressive softening, so he omitted a string section, except for a few double basses.

Denk proved a first-rate soloist, alive to every staccato attack.

The concerto’s jazzy and Bach-like inspirations, or as Kahane put it, “Bach through a prism,” were comfortably balanced. Denk, who sometimes played with eyes closed and head tilted upward, conveyed the lovely cantabile passages and cadenzas in the Largo with a consistently rounded tone.

Music scholar Joseph Kerman called Mozart’s Concert Rondo in D major (K. 382), which followed, “a shamelessly popular display piece.” Composed as a replacement finale to an earlier concerto, there is no denying its crisp, lightly textured vibrancy, and Denk’s fleet-fingered reading made a persuasive case for it.

After intermission, there was a touching moment when Kahane announced that LACO’s principal double bass player for 29 years, Susan Ranney, was retiring. Then the band launched into a lean and invigorating reading of Mozart’s great “Jupiter” Symphony.”

Read the full review online on the LA Times Culture Monster blog.

To see what concerts LACO has coming up, and to buy tickets, visit our online schedule. Hope to see you at a concert soon!

3 years ago | |
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I’m going to start this blog by introducing everyone to my buddy, Writer’s Block. Maybe some of you are already familiar with Writer’s Block – and maybe some of you are already good friends and hang out all the time. I wouldn’t say Writer’s Block is a good friend; he only visits when you have a lot to do, and it’s very difficult to get rid of him. Lucky for me, Writer’s Block paid me a visit this evening, and presented me with a very interesting riddle: How am I, for the umpteenth time, going to describe the marvelous evening I had at tonight’s LACO concert? I really enjoyed all the pieces (which were by Mozart and Stravinsky); and I loved the drama and energy and tension and effervescence that filled the Alex Theater as a result. Fortunately, when Writer’s Block visits me, he often brings along a friend, Digression. And that’s why I’m going to start by talking about wardrobe – specifically, guest pianist Jeremy Denk’s t-shirt and black velvet jacket. It’s not a look (to use “Project Runway” vocabulary) I’ve seen before at a LACO concert, and I loved it – unique, updated, and indicative of his personal style.

I think those same adjectives can be used to describe Mr. Denk’s performance this evening, as can the adjectives effortless, graceful, and nuanced. I attended the concert with my uncle, who reminded me that piano is a percussion instrument, and it’s real easy to use those keys to make only big sounds. Mr. Denk, however, coaxed the most subtle and intricate passages out of them. He was a joy to watch, even when he wasn’t playing – before his part began on the third piece of the evening, the Mozart Concert Rondo in D Major, he was playing along with the orchestra. Well, not actually playing, because he didn’t make a sound, but moving his hands as if he were playing the same things as everyone else. Now, regular readers will know that on a good day I still can’t tell the difference between, say, a clarinet and an oboe. Meanwhile, Mr. Denk is so comfortable and familiar with the music of the evening that he not only knows his part, but all the rest of them as well. Quite impressive!

Well, look at that! Thanks to Digression, Writer’s Block is hovering near my front door, and I think what will send him out of my home for good is to just reiterate the basics: LACO concerts are wonderful. You should come. They aren’t boring, or stuffy, or inaccessible. You don’t need to a degree in music or history (or music history) to appreciate a stage full of artists at the top of their game, playing masterful pieces with the utmost of clarity and precision. I feel richer after attending a LACO concert, despite the fact that I’ve never heard most of the music they play ever before, and there’s a good chance I may never hear it again. You’ll feel the same way, too.

I’m happy to share that between the last concert and this one, I’ve been invited back to blog for LACO for a third season. I’m honored, and I’m flattered, and despite having done this for almost two years, I’m still truly surprised on a regular basis that there are people out there who take the time to read what I have to say. I look forward to another season of concerts, and I hope you’ll be there right alongside me. I only have one question: How long does one stay a Newbie? I should probably have run this by the staff at LACO before I put it out there, but maybe next season will be a good time for a name change for my blog. What do you think? Any suggestions?

4 years ago | |
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We’ve got a double update for you this week. New pictures are now online from our College Preview Night, and you can check them out here. Students who hold our College All Access pass were invited to bring a friend to a rehearsal for this weekend’s Jupiter concert, get an inside perspective on the Orchestra and meet our friendly LACO musicians.

If you are a college student, and are interested in helping us spread the word on your college campus, check out our campus rep program and let us know!

Even though there are only two Orchestral Series concerts left in the season and one more on the Westside Connections series, the All Access pass is still a killer deal.

Speaking of Westside Connections, head over to our podcasts page to hear concertmaster Margaret Batjer talk about the program for Westside Connections 3 and her experience working with director Peter Sellars and rehearsing the Schoenberg String Trio.

Hope to see you at (not on) Jupiter tomorrow!

4 years ago | |
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