By Don Heckman
The third event in the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s a la carte season took place in Glendale Sunday night, at the House of Armenia, a historic mansion now serving as a permanent Consulate General of Armenia and cultural center. Like other a la carte events, it began with cocktails, continued with a performance of chamber music, and concluded with a dinner offering a delectable array of Armenian dishes.
The featured musician was cellist Armen Ksajikian, accompanied by pianist Bryan Pezzone. The House of Armenia’s elegant performance space, ornamented with colorful paintings by Armenian artists, provided warm, comfortable seating for an audience of 40 or 45 listeners. The music that was heard followed in the a la carte tradition of emphasizing the native music of the host country. And one couldn’t have asked for a more authoritative performer of Armenian music than Ksajikian.
The associate principal cellist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Ksajikian’s eclectic resume reaches from his appearances, at age 12, with the National Philharmonic of Abkhazia in the former Soviet Union, to a busy, four decade career in the United States with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and over 900 film soundtracks.
For this program, however, he was not playing such classics as Shostavovich’s Cello Conerto No. 1. Accompanied by Pezzone’s richly versatile accompaniment, Ksajikian chose a program of relatively brief, touchingly melodic, song-like works by a group of great Armenian composers. Among them, classical composer Aram Khachaturian, the priest and religious composer Komitas Vardapet, composer and pop song writer Arno Babajanian, folk-oriented composer Alexander Arutiunian, 19th century Armenian composer Makar Ekmalyan and composer/conductor Arashak Adamian.
At one point, Ksajikian was so impressed with the way Pezzone handled some of the compositions’ tricky rhythms and lush harmonic textures that he laughingly identified him as Bryan Pezzonian (applying the traditional patronymic “ian” suffix for Armenian names).
Together, they presented the program of works in appropriately dramatic fashion, with Ksajikian’s gorgeous tone delivering many of the melodies with the lyrical intensity of an operatic baritone.
The only thing missing, however, from a program of Armenian music was the presence of the double reed duduk, one of the essential sounds associated with Armenia. (It’s been heard, with telling emotional impact, in the sound tracks of films such as Avatar, Harry Potter, Gladiator and many more.) One could only imagine how fascinating it would have been to hear Ksajikian’s cello, playing in intimate tandem with a master duduk artist such as Djivan Gasparian.
The performance concluded, the audience retired to tables placed in the House of Armenia’s lush garden. And, typical of the a la carte concerts, there were more people to meet, more friendships to make. Seated at a table with four other couples, we spent the next hour or two discussing everything from Armenian music and other memorable a la carte events to hiking in the Sierras and the imminent Presidential election.
The combination that we’d just experienced – the concert in an official consulate, the unusual collection of beautifully articulated music, meeting new friends at a dinner featuring appealing national dishes – is one of the irresistibly unique experiences in Southland music.
Fortunately, there are still more Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra a la carte events to come:
– 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.
Photo by Faith Frenz.