A Superb Concert by the Culver City Symphony Orchestra
February 11, 2016
Three hundred people were lucky to attend Saturday night's concert by the Culver City Symphony Orchestra. It was a lovely night: great music, not expensive, and intriguing programming mixing famous composers with ones you may not know.
The concert was about to start when a tuxedo'd gentleman started stood up on the stage. Matthew Hetz, the orchestra's President and Executive Director, gently explained a few concert basics to the audience. "Please don't text during the concert," he asked (sign of the times!), then went on to explain when it was ok, and not ok, to applaud. I've never heard this addressed to a concert audience before; it's about time someone explained it. A few weeks ago at a concert at the Bing Theater, a woman sitting next to me clapped wildly after the first movement of a piece. She was the only one, and embarrassed, she whispered that she never knew not to do that. Listen, everyone - you never know until you know. Nothing to be embarrassed about. It was kind of Hetz to explain that you don't clap after each movement, but should wait till the ending.
Hetz told us it was odd to call this a string orchestra, since the string instruments "are mostly made of wood". Then he made a fast retreat - turns out, he's also a member of the orchestra!
Panamanian Dances opened the program, by William Grant Still. Still had a special relationship with this orchestra. An African-American, Still was inspired by languid blues from the South. He became friendly with the founder of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra when they both worked films and TV, and wrote music dedicated specifically to the orchestra.
You could hear the spirit of American music, particularly in the "Cumbia y Congo" movement. Cumbia is a popular Latin American dance. This movement mixed Panamanian music with African music from the slave trade. The music was pretty spicy, then had a strong, quick ending.
It was a real treat to hear Usha Kapoor's excellent solo violin in J.S. Bach's Violin Concerto, Major. It was particularly strong in the first movement. I found it fascinating to watch Usha's long pleated dress, in tones of raspberry to black cherry, swaying along with her intense body movements. Her confidence and bearing were a surprise in someone so young. Have you noticed that the best musicians never stay still? They use their body to move passionately with their instrument. You watch Emanuel Ax's movement as he plays; Usha had this same strength and intensity.
Culver City's Veterans Memorial Auditorium isn't a purpose-built concert hall. Yet the music sounded sweet and strong. Matthew Hetz told me the acoustics are pretty good because the orchestra is playing in the same room as the audience. "If the orchestra's up on the stage, half the sound goes into the wings." He said the acoustics are similar in theory to the sound in Disney Hall, adding, "and the maple floor from the basketball court helps resonate".
Hetz presented an honorarium to Ms. Kapoor before intermission.
Two oboe pieces came next. Again with the body movement! Claire Brazeau's solo was just delightful in Domenico Cimarosa's Oboe Concerto. Her poise and insouciance limned her intensity. Cimarosa's concerto was made up of four keyboard sonatas. It was fun.
Gabriel's Oboe was composed by Ennio Morricone, one of Hollywood's most prolific film composers. Morricone composed the music for Cinema Paradiso, The Hateful Eight, A Fistful of Dollars and other "Spaghetti Westerns". Brazeau's oboe playing was so captivating that the audience stood to applaud!
The concert finale was Mendelssohn's String Sinfonia, No. 8. In four movements, the sound was different from anything played earlier: it was more cohesive, stronger, and had more master touches. There was strong playing by the first cellist, especially in the first movement, and later in her conversation with the superb violas. It was marvelous, like a playful dance with a handkerchief among them.
I asked Hetz about the music mix. He told me, "We revere the past, and love the classic pieces the audience is familiar with. But while we honor the past, we need to present new music. For classical music to survive, it has to explore the new."
What's next? "Our next concert will be a piano extravaganza with three separate piano soloists. The youngest is 14 and the oldest is 20!"
This is a young-thinking orchestra with a musical conscience. I'd plan on seeing what they're up to April 2.
©Carole Bell 2016 Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.
You can write to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org