By Ted AYALA
As I stepped into the Alex Theater last Saturday, I almost felt a sense of regret at having to leave behind the brisk, fragrant springtime night behind me. I say almost because as lovely as it would have been to stay out that night, the opportunity to hear the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s season closer is a treat that I would be loathe to miss. Though I left the evening behind me, the music played at this concert conjured up much of the mystery and fragrance of the night air. That nocturnal chiaroscuro was heard vividly in the program’s opening work, a world premiere commissioned by the LACO. Entitled Laconika this composition by George Tsontakis was perched delicately between dream and action. A haunting work consisting of five elliptical movements informed equally by Debussy, Berg, and Webern, its spectral breeze wafted elusively through the concert until it died away on a kind of question mark. Laconika is a finely chiseled gem by this very great composer and deserves a long life in the repertoire. Let’s hope a recording is forthcoming.
I took umbrage at something Tsontakis mentioned in his brief message to the audience. When thanking the LACO for the commission, he told the audience, “Young people don’t want to listen to dead people.” Nonsense. Frank Zappa, John Lennon, Nick Drake, Jimi Hendrix, etc.: All very great musicians that are still popular with young people today; all very dead.
Continuing some of the nocturnal colors was the Third Piano Concerto of Beethoven conducted from the piano by Shai Wosner. Though still the cranky and somewhat crotchety Beethoven we all know and love, Wosner played down the heaven storming aspects of Beethoven’s muse and concentrated on the lyricism, bringing the concerto closer to the world of Mozart’s late piano concertos. Wosner played brilliantly with a jewel- like tone. The transition from the cadenza to the coda was utterly magical, top and tailed with the eloquence of Kenneth Munday’s bassoon playing. But Wosner’s heart lay in the work’s glowing central Largo. Thread after thread of gorgeous cantabile was spun from his fingers. Absolutely breathtaking. The rondo finale was given a hearty romp and what a glorious noise was made by all at the coda’s witty closing jig.
The night air was finally dispersed by the dazzling morning light of Georges Bizet’s youthful Symphony in C. Written when he was 17, the work lay unplayed and unheard of in the archives of the Paris Conservatory until it came to the attention of conductor Felix Weingartner, who premiered it in 1935. The LACO played the work with sunny cheer. And how lovely those chattering winds sounded in the finale.
Sadly, music director Jeffrey Kahane was unable to conduct the concert as his mother had passed away earlier that week. George Tsontakis, Shai Wosner, and concertmaster Margaret Batjer led the concert at short notice.
Altogether, the LACO provided yet another evening of sheer delight. Just one quip. It’s been – what? – at least a decade that cell phones have been in common usage. You would think people would have learned to shut the damned things off in a concert setting by now. And to the students sitting behind me: Can you wait until after the concert is over for the conversation? For a moment, I thought we were hearing a new edition of the Bizet work featuring obbligato female voice and male trio parlando a sotto voce.
Ted Ayala is a music critic who has studied classical music extensively. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.