The second set of concerts in this Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra season featured the group’s typically interesting mix of old and new, familiar and unexpected. Music Director Jeffrey Kahane crafted a program featuring orchestral works by Britten and Mozart, and also generously invited two musicians to make their LACO debuts in a pair of divergent works: Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C featuring Jean-Guihen Queyras and the US premiere of Do You Dream in Color? by Bruce Adolphe with the work’s librettist, mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin, as soloist.
The evening began with Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Britten’s homage to his former composition tutor. Mr. Kahane approached each variation head-on. He was aggressive with the more forceful portions and tender with the more reserved ones, without ever exaggerating any of the moods. In total, it was a full-throated, yet moving, rendition. The orchestra was not quite settled in at the beginning — with the violins especially needing some time to gel — but by the end, the entire orchestra was its typically excellent self. Overall, the curtain-raiser was a fine contribution to the Britten Centennial celebrations happening throughout Southern California this year.
Mr. Queyras then gave a thoroughly swashbuckling account of Haydn’s C major Cello Concerto. Think of him as Errol Flynn with a string-player’s bow instead of a rapier. He frequently pressed tempos and romanticized his phrasing, and provided his own attention-grabbing cadenzas. Moreover, he seemed to revel at being the center of attention, through both his devil-may-care playing and suave demeanor. He even offered a wink and sly grin to Concertmaster Margaret Batjer at the end of the first movement.
It wasn’t over the top, but those wanting a more traditionally “classical” take on the familiar Haydn piece would likely have been disappointed. Fortunately for the French cellist, there seemed to be few of those people in Royce Hall for this performance and he was given a rousing ovation from audience and orchestra alike. Mr. Queyras responded with a haunting account of one of the movements from Dutilleaux’s Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher as an encore.
After intermission, Mr. Kahane provided an infrequently heard Mozart gem: Serenata notturna. The cheeky concertante work was given a detailed performance by the orchestra, with excellent playing by Ms. Batjer, Josefina Vergara (Principal 2nd Violin), Victoria Miskolczy (Associate Principal Viola), and Nico Abondolo (Principal Bass) in their respective solo roles.
The close of the evening featured Ms. Rubin joining the orchestra for the autobiographical work, Do You Dream in Color?. The mezzo-soprano happens to be blind, and the poem she wrote (not to be confused with her book of the same name) which Mr. Adolphe set to music offers various reactions, opinions, and metaphors she provides when she’s asked about if/how a sightless person perceives colors.
This is not a “feel sorry for me” work, nor is it a triumphant anthem for an individual overcoming a disability. Instead, Ms. Rubin presents it conversationally, with an appealing matter-of-fact quality that makes it much more thought-provoking than a more emotionally wrought performance would offer. Ms. Rubin’s lyrics are poignant without ever becoming sappy. Meanwhile, the musical language Mr. Adolphe employs for both singer and orchestra is straightforward yes not overly simplistic.
As a whole, it is certainly an enjoyable composition, and the audience responded warmly; whether it’s compelling enough to gain a life of its own beyond Ms. Rubin’s performances is less certain.
Regardless of what she sings, Ms. Rubin has vocal chops worthy of all the attention she has been receiving — one would be sorely mistaken if you think she’s getting attention just because her eyes don’t work properly. She brings her relatively bright tone (for a mezzo) to bear with technical precision and nuanced phrasing, all backed up with some reasonable power. If there were any doubts as to her skills, she laid them to rest with her encore: a solid rendition of “Parto, parto,” Sesto’s aria from Mozart’s opera, La clemenza di Tito. Principal Clarinet Joshua Ranz, standing right next to Ms. Rubin at the front of the stage, played the prominent clarinet obligato with panache.
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: October 18, 2013; Royce Hall, UCLA
Jeffrey Kahane, conductor
Jean-Guihen Queyras, cello
Laurie Rubin, mezzo-soprano
BRITTEN: Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, Op. 10
HAYDN: Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Hob. VIIb/1
MOZART: Serenade for Orchestra No. 6 in D major K. 239, Serenata notturna
BRUCE ADOLPHE: Do You Dream in Color? (U.S. premiere)
- Jean-Guihen Queyras: unknown photographer & Marco Borggreve, courtesy of jeanguihenqueyras.com
- Laurie Rubin: Jonathan Barkat & unknown photographer, courtesy of laurie-rubin.com