Ninth and Washington

It’s not an address, but it is an intersection. It’s the balls-out season opener from LA Chamber Orchestra, in which artistic director Jaime Martín pairs Beethoven’s beloved Symphony No. 9 (“Choral”), with the West Coast premiere of Both, a newly commissioned orchestral work by enigmatic composer Shelley Washington. It is Washington’s own life’s duality that she explores in this work: “As someone who often lives between both coasts, is attracted to both men and women, is a contributor in both classical and D.I.Y. post-rock, is both black and white… We both can be and possess so many seemingly opposing qualities at the same time…” (The full quote is on the calendar.)

That same comprehensive embrace of difference and confluence is what is special about this program. It’s an inspired mashup, combining something we think we know (one of the greatest masterpieces in the choral and orchestral repertoires) with the work of someone who challenges assumption at every turn: Washington is a multi-instrumentalist as well as a vocalist, surfing many genres as she explores big ideas with wildly varied ensembles, techniques and a sense of fine detail that gives some of her pieces a polished feel well beyond her years. Washington’s work and persona are infused with philosophy, heavy issues, an abiding sense of perpetual motion… and joy.

The world has found these same qualities in Beethoven for the last two hundred years. The iconoclastic artist was so moved by ideas and the changing world around him that the music that emerged from his radical thought process was often shocking in its vigor and exuberance, yet redolent of the fine-tuned mastery that has kept him hallowed as one of the world’s favorite creators of all time. Our buddy Ludwig was many things, and it both challenged and enriched his output in a way that seems tangible in the score and in every performance. This work seems to evade “chestnut” status because it still speaks to us on an almost primal level, an irresistible force that has endured in pop culture (think Die Hard) as well as hundreds of concert halls around the world.

These are both thinking artists, united in fearlessness, centuries apart. Might either of these works be “gateway drugs” for those new to classical music? This weekend, Washington’s new piece opens the program for LACO’s two opening performances of the season. (After all, “Beeth9” is not a piece anyone would want to follow…) Joining the excellent orchestra for the Beethoven are soloists Tiffany Townsend, Sarah Saturnino, Anthony León, and Ryan Wolfe, as well as members of eight local choirs, brought together by choirmaster Jenny Wong.

This is just the kind of imaginative, thoughtful programming we intend to celebrate through the List, and hope you’ll continue to support the organizations that create happenings such as this. Get full details on the calendar, and get your tickets on LACO’s website. Build your own sense of Shelley Washington’s range and depth by reading more and listening to a few of the works on her website.

PLEASE NOTE that the performances are at two different venues — be sure to get tickets ahead and check your details!

Hope to see you soon,


Originally published in Next7 — Vocal events through October 20, 2022

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