The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s (LACO) à la carte” fundraising series, established by its architect, Mahnaz Newman, represents the perfect union between classical music and international culture. During every fall season for the past eight years, at five private residences of diplomats representing their respective nations, guests have gathered for native feasts and music arranged and performed by members of LACO in what LACO Executive Director Scott Harrison has appropriately termed “intimate and powerful” salon concerts.
This particular season for LACO has been about celebrating Jeffrey Kahane, who, having begun his journey as Music Director with LACO in 1997, is in his 20th and final year as one of the most gifted musicians of the modern era. Being a classical concert pianist of the highest order, his knowledge and execution of some of the most beautifully complex musical works ever constructed has been lauded by critics and contemporaries time and time again.
And so, Kahane’s farewell ride into the sunset has given this year’s “LACO à la carte” series an added poignancy, which began in Brentwood on September 10th, and featured an impassioned performance by LACO Assistant Concertmaster Tereza Stanislav, at the official residence of the Consul General of Austria, Ulrike Ritzinger. Subsequently, a fantastic Brazilian gala followed on September 17th at the home of LACO Emeritus Board Member Roberto Apelfeld and his wife Claudia, where guests saw LACO flutist Sandy Hughes play with mesmerizing skill. This ultimately preceded the “Mexico à la carte” evening extravaganza on September 30th when Kahane himself was front and center as both a guest of honor and performer. Showing off his genius on the piano, he effortlessly played the works of Johannes Brahms and 20th Century Mexican composer, Manuel Ponce, in tandem with Principal LACO Cellist (since 2008) and USC Thornton School of Music Professor Andrew Shulman.
Undoubtedly, Kahane’s stage could not have been any more prestigious. Set inside a cozy salon at the Hancock Park residence of the Consul General of Mexico, Carlos Garcia de Alba, no more than 75 guests sat in rows of white chairs arrayed between bookcases on opposite sides of the room. Before beginning each piece of music by Ponce, Kahane, ever the consummate artist, impeccably read aloud the Spanish lyrics (as Ponce’s works often had a voice accompaniment) of “Lejos de ti,” “A la orilla de un palmar,” and “Romanza de amor,” prior to seamlessly offering English translations of each, though the latter one, as he quipped, needed “none.”
On an evening that commemorated Mexico, Kahane and Shulman shared the stage with fashionable and renowned musician Horacio Franco, who initially plied his wares at the National Conservatory in Mexico. Suffice it to say, Franco not only entertained the audience, but educated them during breaks in his recital, which involved a unique instrument called a recorder, or internal duct flute. As he explained, the instrument likely originated in the Middle Ages and later peaked in popularity with British royalty during the Renaissance and Baroque eras, when kings yearned to listen to, or “remember,” the dulcet sounds of the birds.
Using three different types of the woodwind musical device, each with seven finger holes and a whistle mouthpiece, Franco expertly utilized the instrument’s pure tones as he feverishly, but with uncanny precision, manipulated his fingers over the air holes to perform Bach’s “Chaconne” from “Partita in D minor” and “Prelude” from “Partita No. 3 in E major.” The highlight, however, was Franco’s interpretation of indigenous Mexican tribe folk music, which yielded galvanizing pitches, and was the quintessence of harmonic order; not to mention, even more impressive was that Franco demonstrated a flawless memorization of every note, and amalgam of oscillating melodies, for which he provided a beautiful resonance.
As Kahane and Shulman took the stage again for the final hurrah of the evening, effortlessly punctuating each other’s musical style with the purposeful grace and cadence of selected works from Brahms’ “Sonata in E minor,” the two ended with the impromptu soft jingle, “Estrellita” (little star) by Ponce, sending off the guests to dinner in the backyard.
The food, which was catered by The Spot Gourmet in Glendale, and the beverages, which were provided by the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, were authentically representative of Mexico’s food-drink culture. For instance, the margarita, which was impeccably made with a tasty rim of salt to go with its sweet contents, was the drink of choice for most of the attendees. Dinner, which did an admirable job of fusing American and Mexican hospitality into an epicurean experience for the ages, was more or less served in two rounds — an assemble-it-yourself, homemade tortilla taco bar (preceding the concert) and a traditional Mexican fiesta (following the concert) with al pastore tamales, Spanish rice, tri-tip steak with chimichurri sauce, and, for dessert, delectable Mexican flan.
Certainly, this third event (“Mexico à la carte”) in the “LACO à la carte” series – with the “Turkey à la carte” and “Finland à la carte” hosted concert-dinners to come on October 8th and 13th, respectively – is in many ways a reminder that we thrive most when we educate ourselves about the identities and histories of our global relatives. When we take the initiative to be interconnected as part of a greater purpose, we not only gain knowledge, or a renewed appreciation, but we are invigorated when we share in life’s best pleasures such as timeless music and culturally diverse foods. The combination of such represents both our highest capacity for human achievement while underscoring exactly the things that make us human.
For more information about the Los Angles Chamber Orchestra and the “LACO à la carte” series, please visit laco.org