LACO’s “Germany à la carte” Gala Is a Delightfully Cultured Experience

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Cellist Trevor Handy; pianist Gavin Martin; Associate Principal Violinist II Sarah Thornblade; the Honorable Hans-Jörg Neumann, the Consul General of Germany; Leslie Lassiter, LACO board Vice President & President Elect; and Lacey Huszcza, LACO's Senior Director Of Advancement & Strategic Engagement at LACO's "Germany à la carte" in Neumann's Hancock Park residence. Photo credit: Jamie Pham

As part of its majestic and magical “à la carte” series, which takes place on three occasions in both the spring and fall (a total of six times) at the distinguished homes of Consul Generals, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) continues to exquisitely celebrate the union among arts, culture, food, and music.

LACO Associate Principal Violinist II Sarah Thornblade, LACO Cellist Trevor Handy, and pianist Gavin Martin performed pieces by some of Germany’s best-known Romantic-era composers at LACO’s “Germany à la carte” in the Hancock Park residence of the Honorable Hans-Jörg Neumann, the Consul General of Germany. Photo credit: Jamie Pham

The “Germany à la carte” extravaganza, which, on November 30th, emanated from the Hancock Park, CA, home of the Honorable Hans Jörg Neumann — the German Consul General representing the Southwestern United States — was the last of the trio of “à la carte” events for fall 2017. The “Los Angeles à la carte” and “Mexico à la carte” evenings, on October 8th and 28th, respectively, preceded the gathering that highlighted one of Europe’s most culturally enriched countries — Germany.

Neumann, who played an active role in the night’s proceedings, greeted each guest, and handed each one a German/American flag lapel pin to be proudly worn. It was a superb introduction to the proud diplomat of thirty years, who has been in Los Angeles for two-and-a-half of those (his term as Consul General ends in June 2018), and was even briefly a lawyer at one point before permanently changing his career path. In fact, his life in diplomacy began on almost a whim, when he submitted his first application to be an entry-level diplomat (as one of 1,800) and became one of a handful who were serendipitously chosen to honorably delegate on behalf of his native land. Suffice it to say, it has been a wonderfully fulfilling odyssey for him.

Through it all, having lived in six countries, Neumann is most grateful for his travels – which more or less began as a 17-year-old exchange student who graduated from high school in Pennsylvania — and for having had the opportunity to immerse himself in different cultures, acquainting himself with a wide variety of people. One of those, whom he recently met and had an illuminating 30-minute conversation with, was the unassuming Tom Hanks at a Jewish function in Los Angeles celebrating author Elie Wiesel. More importantly, Neumann’s involvement in local communities, no matter where he has been stationed at, speaks to the overarching legacy he wants to leave behind, as one who has assisted underrepresented people, including Jews, other minorities, and those who are handicapped (as he had done so during his diplomatic tenure in Sub-Saharan Africa).

Neumann’s collaboration with LACO to underscore Germany’s contribution to food, and particularly music, similarly highlights the importance of an interconnected cultural awareness in a world with much political strife. Violinist Sarah Thornblade, cellist Trevor Handy, and pianist Gavin Martin impressively represented LACO with their harmonious playing of three masterpieces from three legendary German composers, beginning with the “Allegro Moderato” movement of Beethoven’s Piano Trio Op. 97, or more commonly known as Archduke; followed by Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 Op. 49, specifically his “Andante con moto tranquillo” and “Scherzo: Leggiero e viva” movements; and, of course, Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op. 88 for the finale, compromised of four beautifully evolving motifs (“Romance,” “Humoreske,” “Duett,” and the “Finale”).

In addition to being an indisputable giant of classical music, as a German or any other nationality, Beethoven is also especially significant to Schumann, who was introduced to the piano trio via Archduke. Beautifully interpreted by the LACO musicians, the piece’s first movement (“Allegro Moderato”) came across sonorously in Neumann’s living room. It was delightfully peaceful, and even spectacularly surreal, with a sweeping melodic freedom that liberated the guests from all their worries. The combination of evocative passion offered by the string players — Thornblade and Handy — along with the climactic punchiness by Martin on the piano, contributed to an empowered feeling of boundlessness.

Archduke nicely set the tone for the mini-concert, which then transitioned to Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 1 Op. 49. The veil of distress was lifted and the spirit soared, as Thornblade and Handy spliced shorter notes with the occasional long one, conveying the impression of a playful push-and-pull. Yet, there was also a soulfulness that roared, culminating with Martin racing to an exciting finish.

Guests enjoy dinner at LACO’s “Germany à la carte” in the Hancock Park residence of the Honorable Hans-Jörg Neumann, the Consul General of Germany. Photo credit: Jamie Pham

It was the wind up to Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op. 88, which told a gratifying narrative in the form of a foreword, beginning, middle, and end with four miniature character pieces. The “Romance” section was established with a focused, ballad-esque sound, before phasing into a colorful melodrama and a jubilant energy, including a little triumphant silliness whimsically thrown in, for the “Humoreske” segment. The “Duette,” subsequently, took a moment to calm the crescendo, conveying a solemn, heartfelt, and grateful pensiveness about the story up until that point. Lastly, the “Finale” took the previous contemplativeness and pushed on with a determined confidence, producing a strong resonance, as the three accomplished musicians worked in impeccable conjunction with one another. To conclude, Martin took the reins, recapitulating the various themes of tranquility, jocularity, and resolve, as Thornblade and Handy carried them out to fruition on their instruments, en route to a blooming and definitive denouement.

Capping off the lively three-hour engagement was a dinner fit for both native-born and honorary Germans, who relished the hearty goulash that was lavishly ladled atop blissfully buttery spätzle, to go with steamed veggies, a glass of Riesling (German white wine), and, of course, as per the request of the Consul General himself, German Apple Strudel for dessert. With the history of food, classical music, and German heritage being celebrated in tandem with LACO — which will soon celebrate its 50th-year anniversary — the evening’s guests not only took part in a humble occasion, but became more culturally appreciative when it was over. This was even the case for the host himself, the esteemed Consul General, who appropriately remarked that he was “pleased to be a guest in [his] own house.”

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