A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

The Westside Connections series of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) continued with this season’s music and architecture theme on Thursday, March 19, at the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater in Santa Monica. The concept was intriguing, and the commonality between these art forms was uniquely illustrated by the music and narratives. In this second installment, curator, host and LACO Concertmaster Margaret Batjer featured noted Los Angeles architect Frederick Fisher and LA Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne.

Fisher, who designed the Annenberg Beach House in Santa Monica and the Sturt Haaga Gallery of Art at Descanso Gardens, opened the program with a photo presentation illustrating some of the themes found in modern architecture — collaboration, rhythm, framing of the environment and the play of asymmetry. His themes were illustrated by rhythmic and arrhythmic undulations in design. Water was a subtheme, with its choppy surface structure and its various connotations (e.g., floating, danger or vulnerability).

Hawthorne added to the discussion later in the program with prepared remarks and questions for Fisher, and then the two were joined by composer Donald Crockett for an informal discussion with the audience after the musical performances. Collaboration became the common thread between the three disciplines: the idea that art is not a purely solitary endeavor, whether the medium is architecture, music or print.

Sarah Thornblade and Roland Kato delicately opened the program with Crockett’s duo for violin and viola, To Be Sung on the Water (1988). The blend between Thornblade and Kato was seamless; neither was subordinate to the other as they floated together in Crockett’s pulsing stream of consciousness. Intensely melodic at its core, the theme was enveloped by enchanting harmonies of sustained double-stops in discrete wave-like phrases, often with a splash of energy at their collapse. Thornblade masterfully nuanced the balance between consonance and dissonance, tonal and otherwise, and her sound was deliberate, yet warm and fluid. Her face mimicked the affect expressed in her touch and its resultant sound. Kato had a beautiful, controlled resonant timbre and an equally unhurried interpretation that was a perfect match. They gave the impression of a single instrument.

Batjer was positively virtuosic in her solo performance of Arches by Kevin Puts. The Bach-like arpeggios evolved into a frantic charge, punctuated only by two lyric interludes. Her stance was slightly bent at the knees as she swayed and bobbed with the current. Her bow literally made dramatic arched movements over the strings as she accelerated to a dramatic ending with a seemingly impossible blur of demanding technique. Batjer’s performance was electrifying.

The anchor for the program was the Brahms “Prater” String Quintet No. 2 in G major, Op. 111. Violist Victoria Miskolczy and cellist Andrew Shulman joined Batjer, Thornblade and Kato for a signature LACO performance. The first movement Allegro non troppo, ma con brio opened with a beautiful cello melody; from that point onward, Shulman captured my attention. He was wonderfully lyrical and sensitive. His energy grounded the ensemble, driving it along whether in melody, accompaniment or continuo.  His pizzicato was sublime under Kato’s moving viola solo of the Adagio. Batjer turned up the heat for the fourth movement Vivace, ma non troppo presto, intoxicating the audience with Brahms’ folkish theme. The finale was a blast, literally, as a sudden unison scale — tutti and forte — reported with a bombastic climactic coda. A fantastic display. Bravo to the unforgettable energy from Shulman!

Bravo to Margaret Batjer for her sizzling virtuosity on Arches and her dynamic leadership of the Brahms quintet, in addition to her intriguing programming for this year’s Westside Connections.

~Theodore Bell, Culture Spot LA

The Westside Connections 3 program features architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne and composer/pianist Gabriel Kahane at the Moss Theater on April 30.