By Ted AYALA
A faint echo of the Brooklyn Festival, which started at Disney Hall on April 16, could be heard last Saturday at the Alex Theatre when the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s composer-in-residence took his star turn on the stage.
Andrew Norman, a Southern California native now living in Brooklyn, had his latest LACO commission – part of his three year residency with the orchestra – premiered last weekend.
There was an attractively cryptic feel to the music, a quality that was enhanced by the piece’s lacking of a title. Whatever Norman will title the piece later, it is safe to call it a work of a very bright and promising composer.
“I’m very much about the idea of transformation,” Norman said in a brief speech preceding the performance of his work. “One of the journeys [in this piece] is from silence to sound. Nothing is more special to me than the silence we share.” He went on to describe the work as an attempt to shape silence by reaching out to sounds that teeter on its edge.
Sonorities that barely registered – in fact, more apparent visually than aurally – signaled the piece’s opening, flickering like the dim region that occupies one’s consciousness immediately before waking. Back desk solo strings rustled and writhed from the gaping silence they strove to wrench themselves from, steadily gaining in force. Like rays of sunlight slowly tracing their luminescence across a darkened landscape, the solo instruments would be joined by others. The orchestra grew in assertiveness, reaching a post-minimalist climax that emerged like the sun at its apex. There were moments in the score that recalled moments from Valentin Silvestrov’s “Symphony No. 5,” though Norman’s piece had none of the death-haunted nostalgia of the Ukrainian’s work. Its radiant expression and fragility clearly reflected a younger composer’s sensibilities.
Another young composer who exuded brilliance and vulnerability was Mozart; both aspects sounding close to Jeffrey Kahane’s heart, who was the soloist in the Austrian’s “Piano Concerto No. 22,” leading the orchestra from the keyboard.
Kahane seems to have found the key to playing Mozart. Play the music simply and beautifully and hear the score come to life. His approach is sensible; he never mugs for audience attention. His is aristocratic playing in the very best sense. In short, Kahane is a born Mozartian and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is the ideal Mozart orchestra. Their performance abounded with all sorts of wonderful details born out of careful study and deep love of the music.
A different kind of brilliance emanated from the early 1950s “Variaciones concertantes” by Alberto Ginastera. It is a transitional work that moves away from the Argentine nationalism of the composer’s early period and segues into his more eclectic late style. The rhythms of the pampas still raise their head, yet in this work one finds them in the process of a kind of transfiguration, being reshaped into something more abstract, more elemental. Andrew Shulman, the orchestra’s principal cellist, shaped the piece’s gorgeous opening cello melody with grace and tenderness.
Opening the program was Handel’s “Concerto Gross in A,” the 11th from his Op. 6 set. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s performance was one that relished the score’s sunny cheer and almost Mediterranean warmth.