LACO’s sad last stand at Royce Hall in Los Angeles

United StatesUnited States Skye, Mozart, Beethoven, ‘Horizons: Beethoven + Skye’: Tereza Stanislav (violin), Yura Lee (viola), Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra / Jaime Martín (conductor). UCLA Royce Hall, Los Angeles, 21.4.2024. (LV)

Tereza Stanislav (violin), Yura Lee (viola) and Jaime Martín (conductor) © Brian Feinzimer

Derrick SkyePrisms, Cycles, Leaps 3
Mozart – Sinfonia Concertante, K.364
Beethoven – Symphony No.4, Op.60

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) was founded in 1968 and has been playing at Royce Hall on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) since 1970. They made recordings there too, but after the earthquake in 1994 and the damage to the hall, things were never quite the same. Now they can no longer afford the rent and are moving their six full orchestral concerts to smaller, more congenial venues in Beverly Hills (The Wallis) and Glendale (Alex Theatre). In 2025, in time for the Olympics, they will begin giving concerts in Frank Gehry’s 1,000-seat hall at his new Colburn Center.

LACO’s last concert at Royce (last concert ‘ever’ the CEO emphatically told me) took place on a typically film-noirish night in LA, cold enough to chill the bones and slightly foggy. They played a program that acknowledged their past and looked towards their future. The atmosphere in the half-full hall with just a few stragglers in the balcony hardly resembled what it was like once upon a time when, like at the beginning of The Red Shoes, all the students and other music lovers hung over the balcony waiting for the music to start.

In its best tradition, LACO made music by Derrick Skye, Mozart and Beethoven pure and clean, an immediate rush of exquisitely controlled emotion from beginning to end. Skye introduced the world premiere of his Prisms, Cycles, Leaps 3 with his thanks to LACO for a previous performance of his music which ‘set off’ his career. He spoke of ‘transcultural classical music, a holistic approach, every music I can figure out without discrimination, the greatest adventure’.

It started like the overture to a Technicolor narrative, lush at times and always hypnotic, but as Korngold, Herrmann and others so skillfully demonstrated, it is not an inconsiderable art. I thought I would like to see the movie even as the music became horribly, relentlessly mechanistic, at which point I regretted not having studied the program notes more carefully to see what was going on. But a lovely little cello solo, leading to a multi-colored, not very classical fugue that involved various elements of the orchestral apparatus, resolved into a violin solo, thunder in the drums, a duet between the violin and cello and, with a few last plaintive notes from the flute, the music died away.

Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola started off flowing swiftly, the slashing accents from the strings and winds in velvet gloves, the French horns glorious in their tone and intonation, and the three double basses supplying real punch at the low end. The two soloists, LACO’s assistant concertmaster and principal viola, made a striking physical contrast which reflected their playing styles. Violinist Tereza Stanislav, tall, red-haired, ethereal in a silver gown, elegant, deadpan, held her place serenely. Violist Yura Lee, short, even more red-haired, in a frock of bright colors and geometric shapes, jumped around a lot, and often played with the orchestra’s violists in the tutti sections. In music that has so many themes it is hard to keep track – just watching the two deal with what was coming their way was like watching a classical music performance art. The more one held her place, the more the other jumped up and down. And when they played Mozart’s own cadenzas, it was like they were playing for the composer himself. The Andante was just this side of slow and their dialogues riveting, and the Presto went like dogs chasing cats, with Lee verging on caricature in her playing of the big rustic second theme, while Stanislav almost perfectly nailed the death-defying trill at the end.

As LA’s LACO moved like a big cat through the introduction to the first movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No.4 and the woodwinds caught the freshness of spring, Martín led a reading that was healthy, optimistic and absent the slightest hints of mystery, the horns braying magnificently at the end. The interplay of the strings in the slow movement was deeply absorbing, and LACO whipped through the last two movements brilliantly, yet sad as if they were ready to leave.

Laurence Vittes

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