Listening in to LACO’s Baroque Conversations

  • 12/23/2014
  • Reporters Desk

By Melina Paris, Music Columnist

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has a well-loved tradition of performing the five concert “Baroque Conversation” series.

Now in its ninth year, music director Jeffrey Kahane leads the program. This year the program uniquely included four harpsichords with the chamber orchestra. There were two performances: Dec. 11 at Zipper Hall in downtown Los Angeles and on Dec. 13 at The Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge

Former San Pedro resident and artist, Curtis Berak, is the builder and owner of the four harpsichords that were played. Two were modeled after Italian designs (Italians were the first to make harpsichords), the other two were French designs. The tops of the harpsichords also were on display at the back of the stage. Each was finely painted by San Pedro artist Timna Pilch, depicting country side scenes and painted marble.

“Baroque Conversations” studies the beginning of orchestral repertoire from early Baroque through the pre-classical periods.Kahane, a notable keyboardist, was featured on harpsichord as he led the Baroque orchestra of musicians and eight featured soloists. This performance honored the connection between Vivaldi and Bach, who transcribed many of Vivaldi’s compositions.

The orchestra opened with Vivaldi’s “Concerto in B minor for Four Violins, Opus 3, No. 10.” The harpsichords alongside the violin’s sounded elegant and refreshing. This is one of the works that Bach adapted six concertos from for different instruments. As this concerto progressed the music transitioned to a more nuanced and emotional expression. It was perfect in every way.

Next was Albinoni’s Concerto in D minor, Opus 9, No. 2.” This one took my breath away. It is the most famous work in this genre by Albinoni and featured musician, Mr. Vogel on oboe. Vogel’s playing had a distinct timbre that resonated deeply. This number consisted of long luxurious notes that Kahane described accurately as “heaven on earth,” ethereal and rustic at once.

They followed with a work for the season with Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in G minor, Opus 6, No.8 “Christmas Concerto.” It was a soothing piece that expressed both peace and joy.

Today, the term ‘Baroque orchestra’ often refers to chamber orchestras that give historically informed performances of baroque or classical music with period instruments or replicas. (Hence the name Baroque Conversations.) After the performance Kahane and the other musicians had the traditional Q-and-A with the audience.

This year Berak stayed for the talk as well. It was a highly interesting addition to the concert. Not only did it offer an in depth look into the music of the period, it allowed the audience to see through the composers eyes in his time. It translated that experience to present day scenarios for musicians.

One of the questions asked of Mr. Berak was, “What makes someone want to build a harpsichord?”

Berak said he was an artist and a painter. While he worked he had lots of time to listen to music and he had a passion for baroque music and the harpsichord. Someone suggested to him that he build a harpsichord. He said there are kits available so he just learned. The most recent harpsichord he built took him three years because he was doing other work at the same time.

He also explained there is no standardization of harpsichords.

“It is an instrument unique to itself,” he said.

When asked if you could hear the difference between harpsichords Kahane explained that the Italian designed harpsichords have a more direct, active sound where the French ones sound more sensual.

An intriguing question asked was, “Where would Albinoni and Bach concerto’s first have been played?”

Albinoni would have played in Venice, Italy at the time the oboe was a new instrument. Bach played concertos in coffee houses with student orchestras or any musicians that would have been available to perform.

Kahane also noted that the word “concerto” originally meant to battle and later came to mean to work in concert, back and forth as in a debate or discussion perhaps, which fortunately for us, connects us to the musicians and brings us to the present day dialogue of Baroque Conversations.


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