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My official job title is “development associate,” but within that innocent-sounding phrase is an overflowing cornucopia of different tasks I’m responsible for. I write grants, I edit program notes, I process donations, I check music titles for errors, and so on. The only characteristics these tasks share are solitude and the ability to listen to music while performing them. While I sit at my desk, and if I’m not too busy bothering the cubicles around me with tuneless whistling (sorry, marketing!), I put on some large noise-cancelling headphones, turn on some music and start working.

From day to day, I can never really predict what music I’m in the mood for until I start diving into my to do list. I always think I know what I want to listen to, but thanks to the beauty of streaming music on the internet, I often spiral into a deep pit of non-methodical musical madness. I start with Ravel at 9:01, and by 12:30 when I come up for air — and lunch — I realize I’ve somehow travelled through some Schubert that led to Britten (via Ian Bostridge) that turned into Ligeti etudes with a pit-stop along the way for a smattering of Rihanna and Blossom Dearie, and ended with John Coltrane playing “My Funny Valentine.” People can complain about the scattered method of listening iPods supposedly promote, but when you want to hear the majestic postlude to “Ich Grolle Nicht” from Dichterliebe because a particularly grandiose gesture in a Sufjan Stevens song made you think of it, you can do just that. And isn’t that great?

While in the office, I’ve given myself a new listening project. I browse LACO’s CD library and pull out recordings that have A) an unfamiliar work by a composer I like, B) an eye-catching cover (I’m a sucker for great cover art), or C) music by a composer whose name I recognize but whose music I’ve never heard. Needless to say, if a CD is entitled “Baroque Favorites” or something of that oxymoronic nature, it gets put back (Baroque is not my favorite, nor do I have any favorites that are Baroque, so it’s an easy omission). So now I have made myself a pile of To Listen To While I Work. And I will not rest till I have listened my way to the bottom of the stack.

Cued up the jukebox we have:
Gernot Wolfgang: Common Ground: Groove-Oriented Chamber Music
George Tsontakis: Violin Concerto No. 2
Anna Clyne: Boosey & Hawkes sampler
Thomas Adès: Violin Concerto: Concentric Paths
Lisa Bielawa: Double Violin Concerto
John Luther Adams: Clouds of Forgetting, Clouds of Unknowing
Barber: Violin Concerto
John Powell: The Bourne Identity Score
John Harbison: Mirabai Songs
Mason Bates: streaming on his website

Looking at the list in its entirety, there are some unusual themes. For example, why am I in the mood for Violin Concertos? Dunno. It’s not my favorite form by any stretch, but I have, for reasons known only to fate, put three on my list. Also, I have a few works that mix live instruments with electronica —Anna Clyne, Mason Bates, John Powell — which seems to be a new trend in classical music, and one I’m in favor of. Other than those obvious connections, I’ll have to wait and see what else emerges as I get further down the list….

Occasionally I have a “themed music workday;” last Friday was Mason Bates Day and the day before that was A Salute To Anything Recorded by Mitsuko Uchida. Having a musical theme can be a great unifier of your day’s musical diet, or it can limit you. Honestly, I like the feeling of not knowing what’s around the musical corner while I’m listening to online radio and trying to figure out what the opus number is for that Schumann song on the first Westside Connections program. Those sudden shifts in aural mood keep you alert, keep your brain chugging along.

It’s this jamming-different-music-types-together style of listening that has me really excited for the next two Orchestral Series concerts. The December concert, spotlight on LACO , features Daniel Kellogg, Osvaldo Golijov, Copland, Wolf and Schumann. I’m really picky about music, but I can honestly say I’m excited about all the works on the program, and am looking forward to seeing what happens when I hear all these works back to back…it will be interesting to see what connections can be made, what commonalities I’d never think to listen for will pop up when least expected. The following concert, haydn’s drum roll , features an intriguing sandwich: Mozart and Haydn are the standard, delicious bread, and Lutoslawski is the prickly and unknown filling. That’s a pretty unappetizing food metaphor, but you get my drift, right? Two known entities surrounding a modern surprise. Hard to beat.

What do you listen to while you work? Bach? Van Halen? White noise? Let us know in the comments!

3 years ago | |
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For the LACO performance of Beethoven Symphony No. 7, I will be using the new Adams Schnellar timpani.

Hans Schnellar (1865-1945) began his career as solo timpanist with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. He was guest timpanist with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam for one year before becoming solo timpanist with the Viennese State Opera and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra until 1932. His experiments with the making of timpani led to his own innovative timpani design that became the Viennese tradition. The original Schnellar timpani used since 1910 are still being used by Royal Concertgebouw, Viennese Opera, and Vienna Philharmonic timpanists today.

Adams Musical Instruments recently recreated their own Schnellar timpani with modern innovations. Schnellar timpani have a tuning mechanism unique to themselves in which the tension rods and head are stationary while the bowl itself moves vertically to change pitch.

Usually the bowl is fixed and the tension rods and counterhoop pull the head against the edge of the bowl to change pitch. The Schnellar tuning concept is meant to free the timpani bowl from the additional hardware needed for the usual tuning method of a fixed bowl. The Schnellar timpani claw tension system has also eliminated the counterhoop, and the pointed bowl shape is also unique to these drums.

These timpani are well suited to performing Beethoven with LACO, and may also be preferable for Baroque and Classical repertoire.

3 years ago | |
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When I tell people my title, “Director of Institutional Giving,” it usually requires some explanation. Basically, what it means is, I write grants. To the National Endowment for the Arts and the LA County Arts Commission. To foundations with billion-dollar endowments and to those run by a single staffer. And to big corporations and ginormous corporations. Many companies round up a committee of employees to help decide how to spend those philanthropic dollars, and we sometimes have one of our board members put in a good word for us.

The Boeing Company has what I think is a great, grass-roots giving program. Their California Employee Community Fund is just that: a pool of money collected from voluntary worker payroll deductions. A group of those donors then put their heads together to figure out how to distribute grants to the countless worthy Southland organizations that apply every year.

For a decade or more, LACO has been one of those fortunate grantees, as the men and women of Boeing supported our Family Concert series and other educational projects, even without having a designated Boeing employee speak up on LACO’s behalf. Recently, though, when LACO put in this year’s application, asking for a grant to support our 2011 Family Concerts, we learned that having a Boeing employee referral is now pretty much essential. Without it, we are likely to lose what has been, up to now, a reliable source of funding for this vital and vibrant music education program.

That’s where you come in. I hope. Do you know a local Boeing employee (maybe it’s you) who gives to the Community Fund? Would he or she (or you) be willing to attach their name to LACO’s grant application? If you know or are such a person, we – and every one of about 3,000 kids, parents and grandparents who will attend a LACO Family Concert this season – would be thrilled to have you contact me here at the Orchestra’s office. Give me a call at 213 622 7001 × 203 or shoot me an email at michelleweger@laco.org

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and think about whether you can help. I hope to see you at a LACO Family Concert in 2011!

3 years ago | |
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I recently read two quotes about music that have stuck in my mind. The first comes from composer Jennifer Higdon, whose newly recorded violin concerto for Hilary Hahn, a past soloist and recording artist with LACO, just came out. It’s a great work and I highly recommend the recording. In her notes, Higdon writes:

I believe that one of the most rewarding aspects of life is exploring and discovering the magic and mysteries held within our universe. For a composer this thrill often takes place in the writing of a concerto…it is the exploration of an instrument’s world, a journey of the imagination, confronting and stretching an instrument’s limits, and discovering a particular performer’s gifts.

The second quote comes from New Yorker critic Alex Ross, who has a new book out (if you haven’t read his first, The Rest is Noise, get up from your computer and go get it. Right now. This blog post will still be here when you get back, I promise). The new book is Listen to This, and a quote from the introduction really stuck with me: “I approach music not as a self-sufficient sphere but as a way of knowing the world.”

“A way of knowing the world.” I think this approach is a great way to encourage people new to classical music to explore and discover how wonderful it is — you should not feel overwhelmed and obligated to know how you’re supposed to listen to and process it, but you should find ways in which the music speaks to you and your life. Find a way in which this music shines a small light into corners of your brain and unearths connections between your experience in the here-and-now and music written in a church in France in 1150. Let music somehow illuminate and provide a soundtrack for your day-to-day existence. And if it’s a case of sitting traffic on the 110 being enriched by Leonin or Perotin, so be it. Run with it!

A common misconception about classical music is that it’s not applicable to modern life, it’s an artistic remnant from a different era that has little to offer us now, blah blah blah. Obviously, I am not someone who agrees with this view. I will certainly admit that the world has changed since Haydn wrote his gaggle of symphonies, but that doesn’t mean they are any less satisfying now. They have the same lucidity of form and clarity of sonorities they had while the ink was still wet on the score. Modern audiences, for the most part, do not follow along with the form in their heads while listening (“what a great false recapitulation! How will he ever manage to lead us to the real recapitulation?”), but the music is still satisfying, just in a different, modern way (“what am I feeling in this moment?”). There isn’t only one right way to listen to a piece of music. Everyone can listen to a piece in a different way and have an equally rewarding experience. You listen for the form? Fine! You listen for the drama? Great! And it’s perfectly acceptable to be bored by a piece — no one likes every piece of artwork by all artists – you just have to find what you like and what speaks to you and your life.

Music is not written in a bubble, nor is it performed in a bubble. All art has external influences, whether obvious or hidden. So music doesn’t have to be listened to in an antiseptic, no-connection-to-anything-else-going-on way. Music of the Second Viennese School (like Webern) makes sense emotionally when you look at through the prism of what was going on in Europe at the time (hint: not good things). Gregorian Chant was created as a way to remember the words to prayers; it was written to be part of a service, not as something you’d listen to as a stand-alone piece of music. This is not to say that context must influence your approach to a piece of music, but a little knowledge can deepen and richen the experience, make the music a little less daunting, and even serve as a gateway to enjoying a new type of music. I love minimalist music, both because I like the way it sounds and because it was a breath of fresh air at a time in modern music when things had gotten too formal and abstract. I respond to the overwhelmingly tonal world it creates and inhabits, and I like that it is like an aural breeze, clearing the dust of severe and dogmatic music out of your ears. And can’t I like it for both reasons?

Sometimes you like a piece more for one reason or the other. Intellectually, I like Thomas Adès’ violin concerto Concentric Paths. Aurally and emotionally, it’s a bit of a thorny slog through complex musical ideas I haven’t digested yet. John Corigliano’s Fern Hill is an all-time favorite, partly because it’s an amazing work, and partly because I have happy memories of singing it with my college choir. Do I understand it theoretically? No. Can I sing along with the Tenor II part? Yes. Music can also help us “know the world” in a more negative way as well, illuminating unhappier parts of life. Corigliano’s Symphony No. 1 and John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls tackle tough, tough subjects; the former is about the beginnings of the AIDS crisis and the latter is a memorial to the victims of 9/11. Can I listen to these pieces a lot? Nnnnooooo. But do they serve their purpose in emotionally responding to life? Very much so, and very successfully. Great art isn’t always sunshine, kittens and lollipops. As interesting as that might be….

Next time you’re listening to a new piece of music, think about these things. How is this music helping you to know your world? How is music helping you explore our universe?

Go out and discover!

4 years ago | |
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At the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, we had no sooner unpacked our boxes following the move to new our administrative digs in the World Trade Center on Figueroa Street (These offices are GREAT! Lots of storage room for our many boxes of programs, brochures, special events supplies etc. etc. etc.), than we prepared for the announcement of another big change.

The LACO Board this week named Rachel Fine executive director beginning November 29. It says a lot about the flexibility of our staff that we have embraced both the recent physical move and the new leadership shift with enthusiasm. Even though it does mean redoing the stationery twice in quick succession. (Hey, there’s always an upside. We have the new stationery drill down pat!)

The maxims “change is the only constant” and “change is hard” are well-known. But, shaking things up definitely can be viewed in other ways. Courtesy of Google (of course), here are some quotes on change to ponder.

“Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.” — Confucius

“Unless you are prepared to give up something valuable you will never be able to truly change at all, because you’ll be forever in the control of things you can’t give up.” — Andy Law

“One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.” — Robert E. Quinn

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have—and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.” — James Belasco & Ralph Stayer

“The key to change… is to let go of fear.” — Rosanne Cash

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” — Maria Robinson

“Any change, even change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” — Arnold Bennett

“We change, whether we like it or not.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There is nothing wrong with change, if it is in the right direction.” — Winston Churchill
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” — Reinhold Niebuhr

“We cannot change our past. We can not change the fact that people act in a certain way. We can not change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.” — Charles R. Swindoll

“Things do not change; we change.” — Henry David Thoreau

“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” — Benjamin Franklin

“Change starts when someone sees the next step.” — William Drayton

“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” — Nathaniel Branden

And last but not least,

“Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” — Robert C. Gallagher

4 years ago | |
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The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is delighted to announce the appointment of Rachel Fine as executive director beginning November 29, 2010.

A professional and passionate classical musician as well as a well-rounded and imaginative administrator, Rachel Fine’s career has been distinguished by her rare commitment to classical music as an art form, an important educational tool and a catalyst for positive change. Since January 2007, she has served as executive director of Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, and was named recently one of “50 Women of Influence” by Pasadena’s THE Magazine, as well as honored to participate in the Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s prestigious 2008-09 Arts Leadership Initiative (ALI). She served previously as director of development for the renowned San Francisco-based period ensemble Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, as well as held leadership positions at the Juilliard School, Santa Fe Opera and the Aspen Music Festival. An accomplished pianist, Ms. Fine spent her undergraduate years at the Eastman School of Music and the University of California, Irvine from which she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in music. She pursued graduate studies in musicology at Yale University.

Read Rachel’s bio to learn more about her background in the arts.

To learn more about the appointment of Rachel to the LACO staff, read the full press release.

4 years ago | |
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We all hope you were able to join us for the season opening concerts this weekend! The music was superb, the audience was enthusiastic and enchantment was in the air.

LACO received a wonderful review in the LA Times by Rick Schultz.

Shultz writes …“In a program inspired by the theme of enchantment, [Julian] Kuerti confidently led Kahane’s band in works representing a broad stylistic range, from Haydn to Pierre Jalbert. Moreover, he and the orchestra proved superb collaborators for the evening’s star soloist, violinist Leila Josefowicz.

In the concert’s centerpiece, Josefowicz, also Canadian-born, gave an extraordinary performance of Prokofiev’s lyrical and rugged Violin Concerto No. 1. The great violinist Joseph Szigeti once noted that the concerto mixed “fairy-tale naiveté and daring savagery.” Josefowicz caught both qualities in this ethereal and gripping account. Throughout, Kuerti and orchestra remained sensitively tied to her warm-toned playing, making the melodically luxurious finale especially memorable.

The program opened with Mendelssohn’s Overture, Scherzo and Nocturne from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Kuerti, who was a violin soloist himself before he took up conducting, magically conveyed the composer’s fanciful conception. The jaunty Scherzo marvelously contrasted with a Nocturne appropriately slumbering (in the play, Oberon has ordered Puck to restore order while everyone sleeps) but never soporific.

After intermission came Jalbert’s “Les espaces infinis” (“The Infinite Spaces”), composed in 2001. Jalbert, an American who grew up in Vermont, was the orchestra’s composer-in-residence from 2002-05. His composition, illuminated here by concertmaster Margaret Batjer’s sweet tone, usually lasts 11 minutes. Kuerti’s interpretation clocked in at closer to nine, creating a more urgent effect. The music seems to be ever striving and searching. It’s Jalbert’s version of Charles Ives’ “Unanswered Question.” It is tonal, only slightly dissonant, and in Kuerti’s rendering beautifully balanced with an exquisite feeling for orchestral color.

Read the full review at latimes.com.

For another wonderful perspective, read Newbie Blogger David Garcia’s review of the concert

We’d love to hear what you thought – tell us in the comments section! And, we hope to see you at Discover Beethoven on November 6 at the Ambassador Auditorium!

4 years ago | |
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The drought is over. LACO’s back! The 2010-2011 season kicked off tonight with Infinite Enchantment at the Alex Theater, and after racing from Reseda, I made it into my seat just as the musicians were walking onstage to begin the concert. I don’t recommend anyone cut it as close as I did, but I was quite pleased with my perfect timing! And, as it turns out, I was thrilled that I didn’t miss anything, because the concert began with some of Mendelssohn’s lovely pieces from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was the perfect way to start a concert, and an entire season, with music written to accompany a cast of characters disappearing into the woods. There’s a reason the marketing geniuses at LACO called this concert Infinite Enchantment, and this piece was it. It calmed my racing heart (which was pumping from all the bobbing and weaving on the 134) and instantly reminded me of what I’ve missed in the past 5 months – amazing musicians playing tremendous music. As an added bonus, I feel that attending this concert can now excuse me from actually seeing a Shakespeare play for at least another year or two. And before everyone barrages the Comments section defending the Bard, let me just add that I’ve seen tons, and read more, and I’m just over it. They’re all classics – I get it. I’d just rather see the classics written by Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller.

Getting back on subject, A Midsummer’s Night Dream was followed by a vigorous and rousing performance of Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, with guest artist Leila Josefowicz on violin. What a stunning 22 minutes! I loved the piece – it was eerie and moody, with one unexpected transition and tempo change after another. As anyone who’s read my prior blogs knows, there’s little I like more than an unsettling piece of music. Ms. Josefowicz, meanwhile, was mesmerizing to watch – she was expressive, and it seemed like, from where I was sitting, she was connecting with her violin in an intense way, almost like she was coaxing the sounds out of it. I’ve never heard a violin sound the way hers did – it seemed deeper, more aggressive, more sly.

The second half of the show was less exciting for me. I wanted to like Les espaces infinis (“The Infinite Spaces”) and Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 more than I actually did, and despite being in the Alex just hours ago, I can’t really remember it much of it at all (except the final 45 hectic seconds of the Hadyn was astonishing). I think I may have fallen victim to my own finite attention span – it seems like frequently I like the first act of LACO’s concerts more than the latter half, during which I’m more prone to drifting off, thinking about the rest of my weekend, creating to-do lists in my head, and so on. I can’t be the only one who struggles to keep focus, can I? What can I do about it?

While I’m asking questions, I’ll ask this one too: Why is it that the number of strings needed in a piece isn’t included in the instrumentation? The program notes that, for example, A Midsummer Night’s Dream needs: “2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, tuba, timpani; strings.” How many strings? Does the conductor get to decide? There seemed to be a lot of strings on stage, and I can imagine there’d be a notable difference in the sound if there were just a few more or less. Why can’t anyone be more decisive on the matter?

Lastly, I have to note how impressive it was that Julian Kuerti stepped in for ailing LACO Music Director Jeffrey Kahane as conductor this evening. I don’t really know how a conductor leads an orchestra, except that he or she would probably have to know the music intimately, and have an established rapport with the musicians who look to them for guidance. I’m not surprised at tonight’s performance – after all, a LACO concert has never let me down – but I was impressed nonetheless. A terrific start to the new LACO season!

4 years ago | |
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Over the past couple days LACO has kicked off its second season offering a $25 all access pass for college students with a free concert for students at KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena. At this concert we were fortunate to have LACO violinist Sarah Thornblade lead her Eclipse Quartet in an exciting performance of two string quartets. In attendance we had about 25 college students that came from all over the Los Angeles area, including Claremont College, Occidental College, Cal Arts, and many others. In addition to the concert, students were able to mix and mingle with the musicians and staff in order to learn more about the programs that LACO has to offer.

On the night following the concert we had our first Campus to Concert Hall Representative meeting where we met with six of our campus representatives that will be working to promote LACO’s all access pass on their respective college campuses. These students will work with us to gain behind-the-scenes knowledge of how a not-for-profit is run and learn valuable PR skills that they can use in their future careers. Each of them will start by working to spread the word that for $25 dollars college students can purchase a pass that gets them into all of LACO’s subscription concerts, the discover Beethoven concert, family concerts, Westside Connections series, and more. In order to help them achieve this goal we spent time talking about the background and mission of the Orchestra in addition to highlights of the upcoming concerts. There was also a brainstorming session of how to best promote this opportunity on their campuses.

Check out these great pictures from the evening, and please be in touch if you are in college and would like to join us. We are already starting to sell a number of all access passes and are very excited about what is to come.

To learn more about opportunities for college students, visit laco.org/college

4 years ago | |
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Exciting young conductor Julian Kuerti steps in to lead the Infinite Enchantment concerts on September 25 and 26. It is with great regret that LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane must withdraw from these concerts. He is recovering from mononucleosis and has been advised by his physicians not to rehearse or perform until he is fully recuperated. There is every expectation that he will be restored to full health soon, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

On the 25th and 26th, critically-acclaimed conductor Julian Kuerti takes the stage to lead the Orchestra in Mendelssohn, Prokofiev, Jalbert and Haydn. Of a performance under the direction of Julian Kuerti, a Cincinnati Enquirer critic wrote, “There was clearly chemistry happening onstage, and the musicians performed magnificently for him.” And when Kuerti stepped in at the last minute to conduct a Boston Symphony Orchestra performance, The Boston Globe lauded him as he “rose to the occasion and pulled off a triumphant concert. This was easily his finest hour.” Read his bio here.

We anticipate a wonderful season-opening concert and hope to see you there.

4 years ago | |
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