Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra does not appear to be one of them.If some arts organizations hope to keep out of the political fray during this season of controversy in the United States, the
In fact, on Sunday, conductor Jeffrey Kahane did not hesitate to connect the politics of the moment with last week's series of LACO events centered on the theme of promoting peace and speaking out against oppression. Those events featured works inspired both by the oppression of Nazi Germany and by the American fight for civil rights. Sunday's LACO concert featured violinist Daniel Hope, playing a violin concerto called "I Will Not Remain Silent." It was written by Bruce Adolphe to illustrate the life and activism of Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who fled Nazi Germany for America, where he later became an advocate in the fight for civil rights.
"My family knows what tyranny looks like, smells like, tastes like," Kahane said. Removing from his coat pocket a blue book that contained the U.S. Constitution, Kahane quoted the 19th c. poet Walt Whitman:
"There is no week nor day nor hour when tyranny may not enter upon this country, if the people lose their roughness and spirit of defiance."
He noted that Saturday's Women's March marked the largest demonstration in the history of America, and warned those who would advise those marchers to "get over it," that "it's not going to happen. Because we, the people of the United States of America, in order to form a more perfect union, cannot, must not and will not remain silent!"
Kahane's words brought about a long standing ovation, after which violinist Daniel Hope played the concerto -- "I Will Not Remain Silent" -- by Adolphe. Its two movements represent the two major phases of Prinz's life, starting in Nazi Germany and proceeding to civil rights-era America. The solo violin personifies Prinz: strong, intense and ever-wailing against the sinister sounds of the orchestra meant to represent 1930s Germany: militaristic brass, low drumbeats, dissonance. The second movement, representing his move to America, is more melodic and consonant, and the violin rides the orchestra instead of fighting it. It emerges into something rhythmic and changeable, staying off-balance to the end.
Before the concerto, Hope played a "Song-Suite for Violin and Orchestra," an arrangement by Paul Bateman of songs by Kurt Weill, another composer who escaped Nazi Germany, whom many know best for his work, the "Threepenny Opera." Hope played with virtuosity and commitment, though at times a bit more amplification would have helped, as the orchestra occasionally covered the solo violin. Nonetheless, the songs brimmed with energy and expressive singing, even without any words. The arrangement of "Mack the Knife" had a nice episode of casually virtuosic scat, throwing in double stops, runs and all kinds of clever violin tricks. Having never heard Hope play live, I enjoyed his playing immensely and am happy he will be returning more often to the U.S., as he takes on a new role as Artistic Partner at the New Century Chamber Orchestra in San Francisco for the next three years.
After the intermission came a performance of Weill's "Seven Deadly Sins," a 1933 collaboration with librettist Bertolt Brecht (the same creative partner Weill worked with in "Threepenny Opera.") The work is a sung ballet ("ballet chanté"), on Sunday performed by singer Storm Large and a male vocal quartet called Hudson Shad, with LACO. This is one of those works that was met with puzzlement in its time. Given a good solid performance on Sunday, I still needed to refer heavily to the program notes for illumination. The story goes something like this: Anna and her "sister"/alter-ego "Anna II" set out on a trek to earn money to build a family home back in Louisiana, only to be confronted in every city with different "deadly sin." But every "sin" is couched in irony -- Anna commits the sin of "pride" when she struggles with performing as a topless dancer; she commits the sin of "envy" when she wishes for a more virtuous life. Storm Large gave a committed performance, complete with slinky, belly-button revealing dress (and even donning one of those pink pussy hats at one point), but the bitter message felt a little incongruous with the rest of evening's message of hope and empowerment.
Still, the evening ended on a positive note, with Large's encore, a song she composed called Stand Up for Me," about standing up for love. A fitting complement to "I Will Not Remain Silent."
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