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You may have seen the story at the LA Times’ Culturemonster blog or heard from various other sources that the Los Angeles Unified School District is looking at cutting its corps of elementary school arts specialists in half next year as one measure to help reduce a budget deficit of over $470 million. (The move would trim about 3% from the district’s funding gap.) If adopted, the plan would then see the remaining 170 or so instructors in music, dance, theatre and visual arts lose their jobs the following year, effectively drying up LAUSD’s pool of personnel qualified to teach those subjects. Once gone, the likelihood that those jobs and the surrounding program infrastructure could easily be re-instituted in more prosperous, less debt-ridden years, looks awfully slim.

Sadly, after the two-year beating the economy has taken on virtually every aspect of our lives – and the three-decade whumping arts education had endured before that –news like this doesn’t come as all that much of a shock. And I don’t know about you, but on first hearing it I was tempted to just shrug my shoulders and pull the blankets over my head.

But then I realized something.

We’ve been masterfully swayed by the idea that it’s an elite minority – quaintly enlightened arts enthusiasts like you and me – who truly appreciate the importance of arts learning, while some vague, nameless majority of other people believe that the arts are some esoteric area of study (or worse, mere recreation) that exist in a realm completely disassociated from “real life.” But in fact, according to a 2005 Harris Poll, 93% of respondents said that the arts are essential to a complete education. I’d even go so far as to say that participating in creative activities, from drumming circles to painting with water colors, simultaneously takes us outside of ourselves and shows us how to search within – meaning that the arts are not only part of a well-rounded education, ¬_they are at the heart of it_.

So here’s what faces us for the foreseeable future: A vital area of human development will virtually cease to exist in the Los Angeles public educational system, unless administrators at the highest levels can be persuaded to find an alternative. There are infinite ways to slice this pie, and we don’t have to accept the inevitability that elementary-grades arts education is going to be starved.

Now, this is the part where I tell you to throw back the covers and get baking: Arts for LA, Southern California’s leading arts advocacy group, has recently launched an ambitious campaign to bring together a broad coalition of individuals and organizations to voice our collective concerns over the LAUSD proposal and assure decision makers that constituents will back a plan that preserves arts education. To make this effort…effortless, the group has set up an impressive action center at their website, artsforla.org, with background info, talking points and targeted suggestions for action. You’re part of that 93%, so embrace your power, find your voice and act now.

8 years ago |
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Gernot Wolfgang is a prolific film, tv, jazz and concert music composer in Los Angeles. A 2006 LACO commission recipient, Gernot is a dear friend and devoted patron of the Orchestra. About the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s performance of his work Desert Wind, the Los Angeles Times’ Richard Ginell wrote:

Wolfgang’s arresting, jazz-drenched new score seemed to capture at once the realities and myths of Los Angeles during fire season .. This piece could also serve as the score for an archetypical 1950s L.A. detective thriller – music that’s somehow cool and sultry at the same time. Wherever your imagination takes you, Wolfgang provides the fuel…

Read on to discover Gernot’s musical muses in his own words.

The work that inspires me most is The Violin Concerto by Magnus Lindberg. I love the almost relentless expressiveness of the piece. The recording by violinist Lisa Batiashvili and the Finnish Radio Orchestra under Sakari Oramo (Sony Classical, 88697129362) keeps me on the edge of my seat throughout. I detect references to romantic music, and Alban Berg, while it is always clear that this is a piece of our times. For me, this music sounds fresh and exciting from the beginning to the end. The piece reaches me at a deep emotional level. It wears its heart on its sleeve. I love how the violin plays off the lush, clusterly orchestral textures. The piece sounds much bigger than one would expect from a Mozartean orchestra (2 oboes, 2 bassons, 2 horns, strings). As a composer, I appreciate how this piece is smart, sophisticated and yet immediately accessible.

The type of music that I listen to depends on what my next project is. I just completed a commission for the concert series Chamber Music Palisades (woodwind quintet & piano), to be premiered on April 13, 2010. In this composition I decided to honor the musical work of Austrian jazz great Joe Zawinul (without directly quoting him). Zawinul, whose main instruments were electronic keyboards and synthesizers, was one of the most successful proponents of the jazz fusion genre in the 1970s and 1980s. So, before I got going on the piece, I dug out all my old Weather Report CDs (an ensemble that he co-headed with the saxophonist Wayne Shorter at the time).

In general, once I’ve started composing I stop listening to any recorded music. Instead I attend live performances, to remind me of how certain instruments/orchestrations sound in a concert hall (and also for the social aspect).

Learn more about Gernot and his music, then discover the musical muses of other influential artistic minds by attending LACO’s Westside Connections concerts this season.

And before you go, let us know what music inspires you. Leave a comment!

8 years ago |
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This Sunday, January 10, tune in to KGIL Retro 1260 AM from to 1 pm to 5 pm to hear a live program showcasing the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

KGIL Retro 1260 will air recordings by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra ranging from Bach’s masterpieces to the gorgeous melodies of Dvorák and Beethoven. The program will introduce the Orchestra’s concert series and community engagement activities and will feature interviews with current music director Jeffrey Kahane and concertmaster Margaret Batjer, as well as live in-studio discussions with executive director Andrea Laguni, and more.

Hear some glorious classical music, get insider info about the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and find out how LACO is making great music personal in 2010. The program is hosted by John Santana.

Can’t get to a radio? Listen to the live stream online. Enjoy!

8 years ago |
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Happy New Year, LACO blog readers! Since this is the last day of 2009 (as well as the last day of the “naughts,” or whatever it is people are calling this first decade of the new millennium), how about a trip back in time? How about a trip through the last 10 years of LACO history? Here are some momentous events we have experienced since 2000…

One of the biggest milestones we reached was last year, in our 2008-09 season — our 40th Anniversary! In the spring of 2008, we also toured through Europe and played in Italy, Austria, Germany, France, Spain…the list goes on! We also celebrated the 20th Annual Silent Film Gala in 2009, with a screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush.

LACO has started three new concert series in the last ten years. In 2000, we launched the Family Concert Series, which continues this season with The Carnival of the Animals on February 7 at the Alex Theatre. Our popular Baroque Conversations series officially started in 2007, but the series is actually an offshoot of an earlier series, Conversations, which entertained audiences from 2001 through 2006. Our newest series is Westside Connections, which began last year and launches its second season in just a few weeks.

Since 2000, we’ve welcomed 11 new full-time musicians to the LACO family. They are, organized by year joined:
Samuel Formicola (2000)
Searmi Park (2001)
Ishani Bhoola (2001)
Trevor Handy (2002)
Tereza Stanislav (2003)
Giovanna M. Clayton (2004)
Damian Montano (2005)
Cheryl Norman-Brick (2005)
Andrew Shulman (2008)
Wade Culbreath (2009)
Karina Canellakis (2009)

In 2001, LACO launched Sound Investment our patron commissioning group which continues to this day. So far, we have commissioned and premiered the following works through this program:
2002: Concerto for Chamber Orchestra by Kenneth Frazelle
2003: Concerto for Bassoon by John Steinmetz
2004: Chamber Symphony by Pierre Jalbert
2005: Fanfares and Laments by Donald Crockett
2006: Concerto for Two Pianos by Uri Caine
2007: Desert Wind by Gernot Wolfgang
2008: Night by Kevin Puts
2009: Radiant Mind by Christopher Theofanidis
2010: A world premiere by George Tsontakis (this is yet to come; it will be performed at LACO’s Great Romantics concert in May. Get your tickets now!

This year marks LACO’s 21st Annual Silent Film Gala, and in the last 10 years, we’ve shown a lot of great films. Here’s a list:
2000: Modern Times (Timothy Brock, composer & conductor)
2001: The New York Hat and My Best Girl (David M. Frank, composer & conductor)
2002: The Freshman (David M. Frank, composer & conductor) and An Eastern Westerner (Carl Davis, composer & conductor)
2003: City Lights (Timothy Brock, composer & conductor)
2004: Steamboat Bill Jr. (Timothy Brock, composer & conductor) and Plane Crazy (Carl Stalling, composer; Mr. Brock, conductor)
2005: The Circus (Charlie Chaplin, composer; Timothy Brock, conductor)
2006: Safety Last (Carl Davis, composer; Timothy Brock, conductor) and Ask Father (Timothy Brock, composer & conductor)
2007: The Pilgrim (Charlie Chaplin, composer; score restored & conducted by Timothy Brock) and Sherlock Jr. (Timothy Brock, composer & conductor)
2008: Speedy (Carl Davis, composer & conductor)
2009: The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, composer; score restored & conducted by Timothy Brock)

Do you have any favorite memories of LACO over the last 10 years? Share them below!

8 years ago |
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Los Angeles native Zev Yaroslavsky is the LA County Supervisor, 3rd district. He recently shared his love for the power of escapism through music.

I have a variety of composers and musical pieces that inspire me. Among my favorites are Sibelius, Borodin, Tchaikovsky, Aaron Copland and Elmer Bernstein. All of these composers have written music that I associate with the landscapes of their countries.

When I hear Borodin and Tchaikovsky, I visualize the steppes and countryside of Russia where my ancestors are from. When I listen to Copland and Elmer Bernstein, I feel like I’m in the American West, the big sky country. The last movement of Sibelius’s second symphony is one of the grandest and most passionate pieces of music I know. There’s a bit of Russia and a lot of Finland in that movement.

While I love all kinds of classical music and am partial to many composers, it is these specific composers to whom I turn when I want an escape from the day to day pressures; it is these composers who take me, almost literally, to another place and let my imagination run a little wild.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my love of chamber music—-especially pieces composed by Brahms and Schubert. I love to listen to these pieces, because it’s as though I am listening to conversations among the instruments in the quartets or quintets. The Trout is my favorite for that very reason.

Thanks for sharing your musical inspirations, Zev. What music inspires you? Let us know by commenting below.

8 years ago |
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Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed attended LACO’s Bel Canto concert this weekend and in his review, he praised Laura Claycomb’s “beautiful singing,” calling her performance of the Mozart aria and Zerbinetta’s Aria “dazzlers.”

About Claycomb’s performance of Zerbinetta’s aria, he writes, “The Strauss aria, which she sang in the long 1912 version, is a coloratura feast. It needs a bit of flamboyance and Claycomb found it.”

Swed also praised Derek Bermel’s A shout, a whisper, and a trace, calling it “a touching and appropriately strange tribute” to Bella Bartok. In describing the piece, Swed wrote the following:

Saturday’s performance of the new score was an ideal balance of tenderness and raucousness, of stillness and intricate rhythms, of fine ensemble playing and scintillating trumpet, clarinet and violin solos from the orchestra’s principal players.

Read the rest of the review. Enjoy!

8 years ago |
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There was a notable addition to this evening’s LACO concert, and ‘notable’ is an understatement. There was a remarkable addition (there, that’s better) in the form of soprano Laura Claycomb, who joined the Orchestra on 3 of the 5 pieces performed tonight. I don’t know how often LACO performs with singers, but this is the first time I’ve seen it, and it was a lovely change that I hope they’ll do again. In the first half of the concert, Ms. Claycomb performed 8 pieces by Aaron Copland that basically turned Emily Dickinson poems into songs. Now, I don’t know much about classical music, but I’m certain that I know less about poetry. In addition, I’m by no means a fan of Dickinson, and haven’t even read much or her work, if any, for that matter. So the combination of orchestral music and poetry resulted in a 20-minute WTF moment for me. I enjoyed that I could follow along in the program (since the poems were printed in their entirety), but that’s about it. I can’t think of better words to use, but I just didn’t get it. The addition of music didn’t help me appreciate or understand the poems any further, and the songs just seemed strange to me.

But Ms. Claycomb’s voice was amazing, and thankfully, it was showcased again in the second half, when she let down her hair – literally (it was up in some sort of twist in the first half, and down after the intermission). I’ve been to a handful of operas in my life (although not in the past 3 years or so), but I’ve always forgotten, until someone is singing in front of me, how breathtaking and powerful the human voice can be. And I use breathtaking because it’s so incredibly impressive to watch and listen to Ms. Claycomb hit those notes, and hold them, and hold them, and hold them, and finally take a breath. It’s exhausting just to watch! I especially enjoyed the evening’s final piece, from “Grossmachtige Prinzessin” (gesundheit!).

And then there were the two pieces that didn’t include Ms. Claycomb, and those were both thoroughly enjoyable as well. The Strauss Sextet was elegant and beautiful, and I think had the smallest number of musicians I’ve seen on the LACO stage – what an evening of firsts! And, of course, the concert started off with another major first – the West Coast Premiere of Derek Bermel’s “A shout, a whisper, and a trace.” Mr. Bermel spoke briefly before the piece, sharing his inspiration, which was Bela Bartok’s letters when he was living (and dying) in New York City. The resulting piece was fantastic – it captured the almost-dizzying energy that large vibrant cities had, and ultimately settled into an almost-creepy, unsettling tone that kept me listening, and kept me wowed.

I’m repeating myself when I say I love being a part of new things at LACO concerts, but it’s a point that worth making multiple times. Between the new (to me, at least) addition of a soprano to this evening’s concert, and the West Coast premiere of the Bermel piece, it was a satisfying, fulfilling evening. And I can’t wait for what’s to come in January!

8 years ago |
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“I dwell in possibility.”
-Emily Dickinson

This weekend, LACO pays tribute to the works of a famous poetess through song and music. Soprano Laura Claycomb joins the Orchestra to perform, among the other exciting works programmed for Bel Canto, Copland’s Eight Poems of Emily Dickinson. According to our program notes beautifully written by Christine Lee Gengaro, PhD, Copland “set Dickinson’s poetry with extraordinary sensitivity. Her unusual punctuation and sometimes halting lines are observed with great care in the music. Some of the hallmarks of Copland’s style, the angular lines and occasional wide leaps, along with virtuosic flourishes in the accompaniment, are much in evidence here and help produce very effective settings of Dickinson’s words.”

It turns out that Ms. Dickinson was a musical muse for a variety of composers. In the 1980s, contemporary composer John Adams wrote Harmonium, a choral symphony based on poetry by Emily Dickinson and John Donne. Hear an excerpt here. Her stark yet emotional words have inspired numerous compositions, many of which can be found in this database of poetry set to music . And here’s a fun fact: most of Emily Dickinson’s poems can be sung to the tune of “Gilligan’s Island” because of the meter. Try it:

I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died
I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.
The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.
I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable, and then
There interposed a fly,
With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,
Between the light and me;
And then the windows failed, and then
I could not see to see.

But what other poems have been set to music in history? Many of Shakespeare’s sonnets inspired composers to pay tribute to the master playwright/poet’s works. Contemporary artists continue to find Shakespeare’s works fodder for creative output – here’s a video of Rufus Wainwright singing Sonnet 20 at the Watermill in Hampton, New York. Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken is one of my favorite poems, and one that is often sung in the form of a choral piece arranged by Randall Thompson in Frostiana: Seven Country Songs. Now if only I could find a YouTube video of the piece of music set to the words of Wordsworth’s Daffodils...sigh…

What is your favorite poem set to music? If you could set any poem to music what would it be? Answer below, and hear Copland’s beautiful interpretations of Dickinson’s poetry this weekend with LACO and Laura Claycomb!

8 years ago |
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When I was researching the program notes for this week’s concert, I came upon a very interesting little detail about Emily Dickinson. In the last years of the poet’s life, her health slowly declined and she asked her sister Lavinia to promise to burn all of her papers when she died. Lavinia instead turned over more than 1700 poems to editor Thomas H. Johnson. If not for a broken promise, we would live in a world without the lines: “Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul,/And sings the tune without the words,/And never stops at all.” Lavinia must have felt that the value of her sister’s art was more important than Emily’s wishes.

Franz Kafka—who published only a few short stories while he was alive—achieved literary fame posthumously, even though he’d apparently asked friend Max Brod to burn all of his work after his death. Some have suggested that Kafka didn’t really mean it, and had a hunch that Brod wouldn’t follow through. Thankfully, Brod saw to it that Kafka’s works not only survived, but were published.

Music too has its share of composers self-critical enough to destroy, alter, or request destruction of their work, Tchaikovsky among them. Some composers whose faculties declined from age or disease, like Schumann, had caretakers who edited or suppressed works that did not live up to previous quality. Mendelssohn held back more than two hundred works from publication, and often revised works over a period of years. The facts about Mendelssohn are especially interesting when one remembers that one of Mendelsson’s claims to fame is his revival of another composer’s unpublished and largely forgotten work.

When J.S. Bach wrote the St. Matthew Passion in the 1720s, he expected that it would be performed only in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig on Good Friday, and that’s exactly what happened. He revised the work in the following years, and the St. Matthew Passion was probably performed two or three more times before Bach’s death in 1750. In this case, Bach didn’t ask that his work be destroyed or that the St. Matthew Passion stay hidden from the public eye. But he wasn’t thinking any of that. Bach wrote music for his jobs without much thought about international fame. He thought about writing music that might get him a better job, but didn’t seek to sell his work the public. Mendelssohn revived and published the St. Matthew Passion almost eighty years after Bach’s death and it remains in the repertoire, performed every Easter by thousands of groups all around the world.

It’s chilling to think we might not have Emily Dickinson’s poems, Kafka’s novels, or Bach’s St. Matthew Passion if not for the intervention of others after the artists’ deaths. It would have been a tragedy. But if this handful of masterpieces survived, one can only imagine what beauty was lost to carelessness, self-criticism, indifference, fire, flooded basements or leaky roofs. We must celebrate the works that survived against all odds, but still consider the far greater number of artworks that have been lost. It’s difficult to mourn for something you never knew, but I’m taking a moment to do just that.

8 years ago |
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In a blog entry posted last week, we read about Laura Claycomb’s passion for music and live orchestral performance. In part II of her musical musings, Claycomb shares the specific pieces and experiences which have inspired her throughout the years. Enjoy her eloquent words, and hear her perform with LACO on December 12 and 13!

One piece which almost always inspire me is the 3rd movement of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. I find it so heartbreakingly beautiful, I usually ask if I can sneak in for my solo in the Fourth movement during the introduction to the fourth instead of having to sit through it. Otherwise, I seriously risk crying.

The first time I sang Mahler’s Fourth was with San Francisco Symphony. We were in one of our rehearsals, and I was sitting onstage next to Michael-Tilson Thomas, following along in my music. I felt such a strange sense of longing and melancholy and sadness mixed in with hope and understanding, and I could feel my eyes start to well up. My first thought was “how strange – it’s just a rehearsal!” and then I thought “how embarrassing – they’re all going to think I’m a total weirdo.” I didn’t know MTT well at all at this point, just that he had been very nice to me in our rehearsals. Then I looked up at Michael. That was when I noticed he had tears streaming down his face, and as matter-of-fact as can be, he’d wipe them away as he kept conducting this hauntingly gorgeous, quiet, tender movement, before the burst of sunlight announced the beginning of the Visions of Heaven – the Fourth Movement. How I ever sang after that is beyond me.

One of the most life-changing experiences, though, was seeing Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson perform the two Bach Cantatas that she staged with Peter Sellars. I saw her performances in Paris and felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I have never before or after seen a singer so totally connected and grounded to the material she was singing, as if it were just flowing out of her and upon us. I didn’t notice technique of any sort; no musical gesture was out of place – actually no musical gesture was even noticed as a musical gesture – it all just mingled in her being and just WAS. It made me aspire to greater things, but also spoiled me for a lot of bad “opera directing” in the years to follow. It’s hard to turn in what you know will be an OK performance because the production is “safe” once you’ve seen how life-changing theater and music can be.

[editor’s note: Peter Sellars is the special guest in LACO’s third Westside Connections event on April 29 Be there to hear this theatrical master discuss his musical inspirations!]

After Lorraine Hunt Leiberson’s bout with cancer, she did another tour with the Bach. My boyfriend at the time and I decided we had to go see her in Amsterdam. He had worked with her and I knew her as a result. She’d always been kind to me. There wasn’t even a sliver of doubt that we could miss this performance. We showed up the day, and heard via Peter and company that she was not well. The official story was that her back was hurting her. Ferociously guarded of her privacy, she would not tell anyone that her cancer was back. ...Even Peter …even her agent (who was also my agent.) But of course we all knew from the looks from the people who were working with her that this was no run of the mill aching back. They announced she was indisposed and they would play an oboe concerto instead of the first aria, but that Mrs. Hunt-Lieberson would manage to sing “Ich habe genug,” at least. Needless to say, this was the most amazing performance I have ever seen. Her “Ich habe genug” was not just married to her movements; you knew that she actually meant it herself about her own imminent mortality. She had had enough of this life. You could see that she was in pain but that she had gone beyond it. The “Schlummert ein” was one of the most moving things I have ever seen – she was actually comforting US with this lullaby, and showing us that it was OK that she was going. After the concert, she canceled the rest of the tour. This was the last time she ever sang the piece. I would have felt fortunate to have just seen her perform it once, but to have been there at the beginning and the end of such a beautiful and complete musical journey was one of the dearest artistic experiences I have. I know she rests in peace; she told us that day in Amsterdam. This is the real power of music.

Some other pieces which inspire me (usually vocal music, as I do so much research looking for stuff and stumble across pieces I would love to do…) Hindemith – any and all vocal pieces, but especially Das Marienleben and Die Serenaden; Ernst Krenek’s O Lacrymosa (nobody ever wants to do this tryptich, but it’s fantastic!); virtually anything vocal by Kaija Saariaho; and Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmelites. Italian music’s all great, but poops out on you about 1914, unfortunately, unless you count the many pieces of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. He wrote a ton of great songs. Strangely, none with guitar (that have been published, at least). One of my pet projects has been to find unknown Castelnuovo-Tedesco songs and include them on recitals. Some great stuff! In my ‘free time’ (ha ha) I would love to research him some more. His papers and letters include many unpublished songs – my dream is to find the time to shuffle through it all and find some more gems to sing…hopefully something that marries his beautiful, unique vocal writing with his penchant for writing for the guitar. We’ll see!

I’m looking forward to singing with you!

And we’re looking forward to hearing you sing, Laura!

8 years ago |
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