Sunday, January 20, 2008

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra - Concert No. 1

I jumped into the middle of LACO's concert season, about 6 weeks before they leave on their first European Tour in 30 years. LACO performs in two different venues. The Alex Theatre in Glendale, renovated movie theatre and city landmark serves audiences on the East side of Downtown Los Angeles. Royce Hall on the UCLA campus serves as the West side home for the orchestra and provides a purer concert experience.

This concert was extremely unique from the programming aspects. Opened with a Divertimento by Strings by Einojuhani Rautavaara, a contemporary Finish composer who's works are extremely reminiscent of a tonal Shostakovich. Following this work was the expanded orchestration of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 4. A stirring rendition of the chamber piece, accented now by the colors and texture of the wind and brass instruments, and muted timpani and drums. The entire audience was on the edge of their seats and while I knew the original piece well, it was fascinating to hear this new interpretation.

Two short Intermezzos for Strings by Enesco cleansed the aural palate before the evening ended with Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2. Soloist Chee-Yun displayed dazzling virtuosity while the orchestra bounded from chord to chord, creating an amazing texture that I hate never been accustomed to hearing from a late Romantic concerto.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra - A definition

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
- from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

A chamber orchestra is oddly named. At the organization's artistic core is the beginning of the symphonic repertoire. Late Bach, Hadyn, Mozart and Beethoven all composed pieces for an orchestral ensemble no larger than fifty players. As composers explored the possibilities of sound, the size of the orchestra increased. In the 20th Century, a standard orchestra consists of approximately 100 musicians and audiences have grown accustomed to that vision on stage. Of course, pre-20th Century there was no delimitation between a Mahler-orchestra and a chamber orchestra. An orchestra was simply an ensemble of musicians, coming together to perform.

Now, anyone who knows me knows of my great love for Mahler. He wrote some of the most powerful and moving works in Western Civilization, and he used an orchestra far greater than the ones available to Hadyn.

And here lies the crux of the problem: A chamber orchestra is really just an orchestra, which performs works written for the ensemble, numbering in the area of 40 players or less. To everyone else, a chamber orchestra is an oxymoron. Most newcomers to classical music know a string quartet performance is classified as chamber music, intimate music in an intimate setting. These same people then believe a chamber orchestra concert will be similar music: quartets, quintets, septets, etc.

This is the perception that must be challenged everyday. These issues need to be tackled every time a marketing postcard or slogan is developed. Education of the audience is the first priority of the organization, second is differentiation from the other local symphony. But, I have always embraced a good challenged.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Burnt Sennia or Brick Red

During my first day with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO), I did not develop a new strategic plan, nor find a new source or funding or even create new efficiencies in production. Instead, I colored.

Okay, perhaps it is too crude a descriptor, so let me elaborate. In my first few hours with the organization, I was charged with taking lists of subscriber zip code data and compile them into a meaningful description of overlap between two principal venues. They also wanted a map, a visual representation of the numbers to reconcile which venues draw what areas of Los Angeles.

And so, after spending hours on the computer developing Excel models and percentages of subscriber share throughout zip code area, I arrived at columns of numbers and descriptors. The story it told was not very entertaining, even if read aloud by an accountant. To bring a sense of joy and amusement to the project, I procured a zip code map for the Greater Los Angeles. After mapping out the locations of the LACO venues, I began the half day task of coloring in the zip codes. The color codes ranged from Green to Orange, these opposites being over a 75% preference for one venue or the other. Moving in on the color well, the primary colors of blue and red described preferences that ranged between 50 and 75%. Finally, the secondary color purple marked indecision between either venue.

The map revealed nothing surprising. People tended to attend concerts in the venue nearest to them. Only a few would cross Los Angeles County in an odd manner, which could be explained with the placement of the freeways and the timings of the concerts.

But that was not really what I enjoyed about the exercise.

The activity was extremely reminiscent of grade school activities, where one learns to color in BETWEEN the lines, instead of creating organic shapes of colored wax. One would think a post-graduate schooled, work experienced, future leader of an orchestra would not enjoy a task such as this, but it was quite freeing. People are constantly judging me, watching me, measuring me up and sizing up my potential. Yet, for one afternoon, I forgot all about those outside judges and enjoyed not using a computer but a box of Crayolas.