Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

This Must Be The Place

April 23, 2012

Gabriel Kahane
So what happened while I was away? Next we hear from OWA's editor and musical consultant Jeffrey Langham on Gabriel Kahane's return to the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra stage on Saturday night.

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was at the Alex Theater in Glendale Saturday night, April 21, for a program, as musical director Jeffrey Kahane announced from the stage, devoted to music composed to evoke a "sense of place." Indeed, all three pieces mention places in their titles, but two pieces in particular, Ive's Three Places in New England and Gabriel Kahane's Crane Palimpsest stood out as stunning exemplars whereas Haydn's Symphony No. 104, the "London," was apparently the carrot dangled at the other end of the intermission to lure the regulars back to their seats. It would have suited me better to have my vegetables first and finish the evening with the real treats.

The first half of the program was dedicated to the two American pieces. From the stage, Jeffrey Kahane offered some insight by comparing the Ives with Gabriel Kahane's project, noting that Three Places could also be considered a palimpsest* in light of its layering of musical textures.  It is broken up into three sections, each focusing on a particular place in New England. The first section, "The 'Saint-Gaudens' in Boston Common," recalls the monument dedicated to Colonel Shaw and his all black regiment who fought for the Union in the Civil War. The Chamber Orchestra's playing was stirringly plaintive, still lingering into the second section, "Putnam's Camp, Reading, Connecticut." It is perhaps this section most of all that that may have led Jeffrey Kahane to consider Three Places a palimpsest. It is a multilayered slice of American musical idioms, at times martial, recalling the bands on a warm Fourth of July in the park, all playing over and through each other, in a convincing American turn at the Bakhtinian carnivalesque: the awesome heteroglossia that Ives hears and shares of his own New England. The final section, "The Housatonic at Stockbridge," pulls us away from the town and into the musical landscape of the countryside, the ethereal sounds of the river underscoring the other musical offerings from a lovers walk that Ives successfully captures. The orchestra under Kahane was hardly at a handicap with this material and played the Ives with great warmth without losing their attention to detail.

Gabriel Kahane gave an enchanting solo performance in his own composition, Crane Palimpsest, with his father leading the orchestra. The work which was receiving its West Coast premiere, is a love letter to the Brooklyn Bridge, drawing from Hart Crane's poem as the primary text upon which Kahane layers his own textual response both to Crane and to the borough itself. Here, Kahane as performer plays both guitar and piano while singing with orchestral accompaniment. He is a consummate performer, and his heady confusion of vocal styles worked perfectly to reinforce the thematic project of his piece. Again, the orchestra proved themselves well above the task of handling such challenging material. They appeared to flourish outside of their comfort zone and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to prove they are not just about the chamber music canon. The audience was enthusiastic at the conclusion, so much so that Gabriel Kahane returned to the stage for an encore, playing the title track from his latest album "Where are the Arms."

Coming back from the intermission for the Haydn seemed like a superfluous exercise. Yes, the orchestra played wonderfully under Jeffrey Kahane's assured hand. It was not a dry affair. The second and third movements, especially, came to life, reminding us why Haydn was the toast of the town when it was first performed in 1795 in London's Haymarket. Yet, despite the beautiful execution, the final piece on the program was a real thematic stretch. Both the Ives and the Kahane were personal meditations, engagements with the places that fed them musically. The London Symphony, on the other hand, only references the place where it was performed. Rather, it is supposed to recall for a late 18th-century London audience the land where Haydn came from, not where he was visiting. If the Croatian folk motif in the final movement is any indication, a land as far away from London as possible.

*Google it.

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