By Don Heckman
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has been making pioneering efforts to find new methods, new settings and new approaches to presenting classical music. Among their many programs, one of the most engaging is their fund-raising, LACO a la carte series, which showcases individual members of LACO, performing for intimate gatherings in the Los Angeles homes of international consuls. After the performance, a reception features the cuisine of the host country.
This year’s season began with a memorable pair of programs, two nights apart.
On Thursday night a la carte Czech Republic, the first 2012 a la carte program, took place in the lovely Westwood home of Michal Sedlacek, Consul General of the Czech Republic. Like all the a la carte programs, the event began with cocktails (this time including Czech beer) on a veranda overlooking a broad, green yard and a glistening pool – followed by a chamber music recital and concluding with a dinner reception and a table overflowing with specialties of Czech cuisine – potato pancakes, beef goulash, chicken schnitzel, gingerbread cake, apple strudel, dumplings and much more—catered by Antonin Rys.
The performance spotlighted LACO assistant concertmaster Tereza Stanislav performing the Brahms Sonata No. 2, Opus 100 and the world premiere of Benjamin Walfisch’s Violin Concerto with pianists Bryan Pezzone and Steven Vanhauwaert.
The differences between the two works were striking: Brahms’ characteristically well-crafted lines and articulate understanding of the violin contrasting with Walfisch’s similarly impressive mastery, but from a very different imaginative perspective, of the violin’s identity. In a broader sense, the two works also illustrated era contrasts as well: the self-confident late Romanticism of the Brahms; the strikingly contemporary modernism of the Walfisch.
Stanislav played both works with an impressive grasp of their uniqueness, as well as their similarities. Fully at ease with the thornier technical aspects of the Walfisch piece, she was also deeply in touch with their expressive qualities, as well. Heard in this intimate setting – forty or so chairs lined up in the Sedlacek home’s library, none more than 10 or 15 feet away from the artists – the music could be experienced in utterly fascinating, up close and personal fashion.
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra will perform the Walfisch Violin Concerto in a concert with Stanislav and the full Orchestra on Nov. 10.
On Saturday night, a la carte Germany took place in Pacific Palisades’ Villa Aurora, a remarkably beautiful artists’ residence and historic landmark. Positioned on a high vantage point, the Villa, with its airy porches and appealing greenswards, has a magnificent view of the Santa Monica coastline and the Pacific Ocean.
Once again, cocktails (including German beer) opened the evening, while soloist Margaret Batjer, the LAJO’s concertmaster, and pianist Bernadene Blaha did some last minute rehearsing in the Villa’s library, now set up as a performance space.
Once again, too, Brahms was on the program with another sonata, — The Violin Sonata in D minor. Contrasting a light hearted Allegro with a richly lyrical Adagio, the work is one of Brahms’ more appealing chamber compositions. And Batjer played it with the spirit and mastery that she brings to her role as concertmaster.
She approached the evening’s other featured work, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in G Major Op. 30, with similar expertise and panache, playing the Allegro movements with especially dynamic enthusiasm. Appropriately, this performance also celebrated Batjer’s 15th anniversary with the Orchestra.
The music over, the library was rearranged with tables, and the dinner reception followed, brightened by bountiful German cuisine catered by the Spot Gourmet. Among the many delights on the menu: salmon with thyme butter, tasty sauerbraten and more, topped off with some sensational brownies.
Obviously there was a great deal to enjoy in the opening LACO a la carte programs – musically and gastronomically as well as the elegance of the settings. But other unexpected, but pleasing aspects are also worth mentioning. Start with the rare opportunity to meet these talented artists personally. Additionally, while some of the listeners seemed to know each other, especially at the Czech concert, there were many who did not. But that was an opportunity rather than a problem. The resulting spontaneous social interaction opened the potential for shared enjoyment of the programs and possible future friendships.
Give credit, then, to the LACO for creating a concert series filled with so many grand aspects. Fortunately, there are more to come:
– On Sunday, Oct. 28, Armenia a la carte takes place at the official residence of Grigor Hovhannissian, Consul General of Armenia.
– On Friday, Nov. 16, Austria a la carte takes place in the official Brentwood residence of Karin Proidl, Consul General of Austria.
– On Saturday, Nov. 17, China a la carte takes place in a Pasadena estate.