The evening of March 25th at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel turned out to be one of the most bittersweet nights in Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) history. The “All in LA” concert gala, which raised a record-breaking $570,000, bid farewell to its 20-year music director and conductor, Jeffrey Kahane, and Ruth Eliel, former executive director of both LACO and the Colburn Foundation. The two individuals, who deservedly received much applause for their invaluable contributions over the years, now have their sights set on providing mentorship to students of the USC Thornton School of Music, particularly Kahane, who will continue to teach full-time as Professor of Keyboard Studies.
Needless to say, on an occasion that boasted a lavish, multi-part dinner underscored by a delectable braised short rib entrée, not to mention an impromptu “La La Land” musical-theatre performance in the Crystal Ballroom, and an after-party featuring a five-man jazz band in the Tiffany Room, the extravaganza will be remembered for the concert, speeches, and testimonials that took place in the hotel’s Biltmore Bowl.
Emceed by actor/singer Samuel Moscoso, and presided over by gala co-chairs Pat & Sandy Gage, and LACO Executive Director Scott Harrison, among others, the happenings saw few dry eyes as each one spoke reverently of the honorees. In a satisfyingly apropos remark, Dana Newman, president of the LACO board, commented that it “seemed very right” to commemorate Kahane and Eliel in the same setting.
On the subject of Kahane, Harrison was superbly eloquent in summing up Kahane’s impact within the sphere of classical music. “He’s nurtured so many musicians and brought so much to Beethoven and Mozart,” said Harrison. “His commitment to music goes beyond the concert stage, and reaches the community of music-making, which is inclusive, broad, and diverse.”
Truly, LACO’s educational and community engagement programs are a significant part of Kahane’s legacy, which spans from the classroom, where he personally helped one get admitted to the Thornton School of Music, to the inner-cities. “The core mission of our partnership with the youth of L.A. is to make sure that young musicians have the same access that everyone else has,” Harrison elaborated.
One of the most meaningful moments of the night was an epic and touching featurette on Kahane by Frank Stiefel. It showed Kahane clad in black, and overcome with hard-earned sweat, conducting the L.A. Chamber Orchestra with impassioned urgency, as his voice boomed hopefully over the visual of him moving his arms purposefully. “I have an acute awareness of how blessed I am, and to speak out in favor of those who have been subjected to any kind of oppression,” Kahane echoed in the video.
On behalf of Eliel, LACO concertmaster Margaret Batjer paid tribute to, and spoke admiringly of, the woman, who, as LACO executive director between 1997 and 2006, played a pivotal role in “helping the relationship between board members, staff, and musicians,” especially during “difficult times in the history of the orchestra.”
Eliel, who has devoted much of her life to arts management, was also recognized by Batjer for the personal impact that Eliel’s friendship has had on her beyond the realm of music. “She and her husband Bill Cooney have been like family to me,” Batjer sincerely expressed, as the familial bond between past and present LACO members in the room was heartwarmingly evident.
It should therefore be no surprise, then, that Kahane and Eliel insisted on being honored on stage together. For Eliel, Kahane is her “ultimate partner in crime,” and to a large degree, their professional legacies — which doubtlessly owe a debt of personal gratitude to their respective spouses — are poetically intertwined. The two have gotten along remarkably well, and have agreed on everything, nearly 100 percent of the time. “We saw eye to eye on 99 percent, and the 1 percent we didn’t, I deferred to her [Eliel],” quipped Kahane.
Amid the convivial and heartening evening, the LACO concert itself, comprised of four separate musical performances, exceeded expectations with a cream-of-the-crop roster, all of whom entertained with soothing, animated, and evocative sounds. One of these was an accomplished musical trinity (Batjer on violin, principal LACO cellist Andrew Shulman, and pianist Bernadene Blaha) which performed Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 2 in C major, Op. 87, with various levels of whimsy, pathos, and a dashing crescendo to finish. Another performance – this time of Halvorsen’s Passacaglia for Violin and Viola – highlighted the verifiable talent of the husband-and-wife duo, Tereza Stanislav and Robert Brophy, who were assisted by interpretative dancers in flowing green chiffon from the Pennington Dance Group. As the cadence ebb and flowed, it was a post-modern presentation carried out with a stirring and triumphant blissfulness.
As astonishing as these two acts were, it was perhaps the performances by 16-year-old Japanese-American Ray Ushikubo and Gabriel Kahane, son of Jeffrey and his wife Martha, that encapsulated the abiding instructional care and guidance that is of great importance to the gala’s two honorees. The rising stars, who are proof-positive of how successfully the baton has been passed to them by Jeffrey Kahane, Ruth Eliel, and others, are absolutely worthy of their newfound acclaim. Ushikubo commands an otherworldly mastery of not only the violin, which he demonstrated with Wieniawski’s Polonaise Brillante in D major, but of the piano, too, as with Lizst’s Transcendental Étude No. 10 in F minor. It has to be seen to be believed, but Ushikubo plays both instruments with a mind-blowing frenzy, and with every bit of precision intact, giving rise to a cornucopia of colors from a beautifully controlled chaos.
Last but not least, for all the chatter of giving back and nurturing the next generation of talent, Jeffrey Kahane has epitomized that closest to home with his son Gabriel, who has made his father proud by doing his part to further his family’s legacy. Gabriel performed a few songs from his album, “The Ambassador,” by delicately playing the piano/guitar, and layering his contemplative style with his robust voice. Upon dedicating one song – “The Folks Who Live on the Hill (1635 Woods Dr.)” – to his parents, and which included lyrics like, “We will make changes as any couple will / But we will always be called ‘The folks who live on the hill,’” it was obvious that the Kahane legacy will exultantly proceed forward. It suffices to say that Jeffrey’s conclusive finale of 20 years as LACO’s captain marks not an end, but a celebration of what’s to come.
For more information about the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, please visit laco.org