The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), led by Jeffrey Kahane, is certainly one of the darlings of the SoCal arts scene, and the concert on October 19 showed off many of the reasons why:
Everything about this organization shows thoughtful management and a true love of art. The performers dress with casual flair. The quality of their music is top-notch. The programming is grounded in traditional chamber works, but they regularly reach beyond the usual boundaries, just as they did this evening. But most of all, the enthusiasm shared by performers and audience is very special indeed.
Starting with Britten’s Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, the higher strings stood throughout the piece, both grabbing our attention and subtly increasing the energy level in the room. Not that the piece needs it: this infectious collection is a panoply of styles, well-crafted, but with a wildly improvisational spirit. It is this energy which, at least in part, accounts for the number of children in the audience. Families feel comfortable here, and quite a few parents brought their kids to at least the first half. Best of all, these kids were really jazzed about being there — they’re heard comparing notes at intermission, whether about seeing their teachers or hearing all the different styles in the Bridge piece. LACO seems to be tapping directly into classical music’s future.
Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major is light, convivial and well-crafted, with a magnetic solo appearance by cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras. His fingers danced over the strings as if skipping through a meadow on picnic day, with a sensitive, delicate touch and pauses so pregnant we wait for a cry. He and the orchestra blend elegance and fire to create true joy in music, particularly in a third movement that rivals Vivaldi for sheer speed and virtuosity. Queyras rightly offered us a solo encore before the intermission, a rare treat from a guest soloist these days. The Bach suite gave us a taste of his individual abilities as well as the collaborative. The orchestra was stock-still during the bonus piece, and the whole room seemed frozen, holding a collective breath. Even the fidgety kiddo next to me was enraptured.
After the break, Mozart’s charming Serenata notturna created a sense of general well-being, sinking into the familiar but in a performance full of style and humor. The work is relatively early in the composer’s career — it was written in 1776, when he was about twenty. Kahane’s passion for this music is palpable, as is his trust in the colleagues around him: his conducting drops out in several sections, allowing the ensemble to lead themselves (which they did admirably). The work ends with a flourish and a giggle — we’re all having fun.
The final piece is the reason we made a point of covering this concert: the orchestral premiere of Do You Dream in Color? by Bruce Adolphe. The work is a collaboration with the vocal soloist, mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, who was born blind but is nevertheless an active, sought-after performer, and who provided the texts. (The poems are now part of her memoir, which is available here.) The songs, originally for voice and piano, explore the mysterious elements of being different, and the desire to be understood, and Rubin sings them with a dark mezzo sound is velvety and warm, with technique that never falters. The orchestration is lush and lithe, and LACO maneuvers the sweep with shared momentum, like riding a fast caterpillar, with so many legs in sync. Adolphe’s vocal melodies are of the speech-like style reminiscent of Menotti or perhaps Copland, heightening the sense that the songs are part of a conversation, and he uses the whole tonal palette for the orchestra, punctuating spoken ideas with quips, surges and responses from all areas of the ensemble.
Throughout it all, the venue is an additional shining star, and it was a pleasure to be back at Ambassador Auditorium for classical music. The acoustics are every bit as good as remembered: even with the lower strings at full power, the violin’s delicate countermelody sings, as if only whispering. This dynamic ensemble made the most of the responsive, vibrant space, and it was altogether a very memorable evening.
Do You Dream in Color? (CD, 2012)
This recording includes the original version of Adolphe’s song cycle, scored for voice and piano and performed by Rubin and pianist Marija Stroke. The album also includes works by Fauré, Rodrigo and Noam Sivan.