By Ted AYALA
The Los Angeles Doctors Symphony Orchestra (LADSO) traded in their scalpels for fiddle bows last Friday night in a concert at the Wilshire Ebell Theater of Los Angeles. Enjoying their new home at the Ebell, the LADSO celebrated by commissioning a brand new piece of music from one of its own musicians, programming a showpiece featuring a quartet of French horns, and including a superb, but unjustly neglected work.
Opening the concert was LADSO trombonist Karim Elmahmoudi’s new work Ancient Dreams. Inspired by an article he had read on an Egyptian papyrus stored at the British Museum known as the “Dream Book,” Elmahmoudi’s work had a near cinematic presence. Little surprise then that the composer has worked extensively in film scoring. Indeed, it was the presence of Danny Elfman’s work that hovered over this work most strongly, complete with fanfares that directly recalled Elfman’s score for “Batman.” It was an effective showpiece for the LADSO and was greeted with warm applause.
The hunting horns of the Schwarzenwald came calling out next with the vigorous horn calisthenics of Robert Schumann’s Concert Piece for Four Horns. One of the last of Schumann’s work before his mental health declined precipitously, the Concert Piece is an airy, brilliant showpiece for four French hornists that smells of pine and earth. Fulfilling a long held desire by the LADSO to program a piece for French horns, the four soloists that night (Dylan Hart, Ryan Ramey, Matthew Lussier, and Jacqueline Shannon) were a triumph in a work with rather problematic horn writing. Notorious for his sometimes unidiomatic orchestrations, Schumann makes difficult and awkward demands of both soloists and orchestra. It was a testament to the deep musicianship of soloists, orchestra, and conductor that these obstacles were surmounted handily.
After intermission came a treat that is a rarity in the concert hall. At the request of LADSO flutist Nora Graham, the LADSO programmed Vasily Kalinikov’s gorgeous Symphony No.1. Kalinikov may not be a household name like Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, but it certainly isn’t for lack of talent. An outstanding composer who died tragically young from the tuberculosis that plagued his short life, Kalinikov’s works have yet to receive the attention they merit. His best known work is the Symphony No.1, written when the composer was in his late 20s.
Closer to the world of the “Mighty Five” than to Tchaikovsky, the symphony fuses the melos of Mussorgsky and Borodin into a very personal and unmistakably original voice. Replete with luscious, broad melodies and sparkling orchestration, it’s a wonder why this symphony isn’t better known.
Credit should be given to Shulman and the LADSO for performing this relatively unknown work. That they did it so well is the icing on the cake. The LADSO played with great pop and fizzle and maestro Shulman allowed the orchestra ample time to sing out and wallow in the symphony’s many lovely episodes. As soon as the blazing coda finished, the audience rose and covered the orchestra in well deserved hearty applause.
Many thanks to Shulman and the LADSO for a thrilling evening of great music.