Review: Season opener of Le Salon de Musiques

October 14, 2018 | By Henry Schlinger | Category: Classical Music and Opera

The 2018-19 season of Le Salon de Musiques opened spectacularly on Sunday, Oct. 7. For “Romantic Nostalgia,” Founder and Artistic Director Francois Chouchan programmed three works for string quartet: Henry Purcell’s “Chacony” in G minor (arranged by B. Britten), Schubert’s String Quartet No. 15 in G major, D. 887, and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80.

The players included Jessica Guideri and Serena McKinney on violin, Robert Brophy on viola and Michael Kaufman on cello. Principal Cellist of the LA Phil Robert deMaine was originally scheduled, but he pulled out at the last minute, so Chouchan arranged for Gabriel Martins to fill in. Unfortunately, he sustained an injury that prevented him from performing, so Chouchan found Kaufman. As everyone in the audience noted at the conclusion, he did an amazing job of learning these three pieces, two of which — the Schubert and Mendelssohn — are particularly challenging, and then pulled off a performance that gave no hint that he had only three days to learn and rehearse the program.

The concert was originally planned to open with the Purcell followed by the Schubert and then the Mendelssohn, but the performers changed the order to begin with the Mendelssohn followed by the Purcell and concluding with the Schubert. The rationale stated by the performers was that playing both the Mendelssohn and the Schubert — two very demanding pieces — back-to-back would be too taxing for the players and the audience alike. So, they used the Purcell, as violist Brophy stated, as kind of a palette cleanser for the audience and as a rest for the players.

Both the quartets by Mendelssohn and Schubert were the last they wrote for the genre. Mendelssohn composed his F minor quartet upon the death of his sister, Fanny, and gave it the title “Requiem for Fanny.” Mendelssohn himself died two months later at the age of 38. Schubert composed his G major quartet in 1856, and it wasn’t published until after his death in 1828 at the age of 31. Thus, both quartets were composed with death in the air. Mendelssohn’s sister had just died and his death was imminent, whereas Schubert was already sick with what is thought to be syphilis and would himself die within about a year. One can hear in Schubert’s last quartets and piano sonatas echoes of his impending doom, while at the same time in these pieces is some of the most exquisite music he ever wrote. As an aside, it is simply astounding to consider how much great music, including numerous masterpieces, both Mendelssohn and Schubert composed in such a short time span, including these two string quartets.

As for the performance, the players held the audience spellbound with both quartets. They attacked the Mendelssohn with the seriousness it required, and their performance of the Schubert, which is not as well known as his previous two quartets, was simply riveting. It was truly amazing how four players who do not ordinarily play together could come together and pull off such a compelling performance.

For those who do not know, the concerts of Le Salon de Musiques, the child of Chouchan, are held in an intimate setting on the fifth floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The audience sits only feet away from the performers, and as Chouchan stated, the audience can feel the vibrations from the instruments, which is unlike the experience in a big concert hall. Le Salon de Musiques is modeled on the salons created by Schubert in the 19th century, and it is truly a unique experience in Los Angeles. Each concert is introduced by a musicologist — on this Sunday, it was Dr. Kristi Brown-Montesano. And after the performance, the audience gets to ask questions of and interact with the musicians.

And if the great music performed by world-class musicians wasn’t enough, after each performance, the audience is treated to French champagne and a high tea buffet served by Patina restaurant.

The entire experience makes for a truly special afternoon of great music, conversation and treats and, for the chamber music lover, is not to be missed.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

Le Salon de Musiques has programmed eight more concerts this season. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.lesalondemusiques.com.

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