The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra performed all six of the Brandenburg Concertos by J. S. Bach on the evening of Nov. 30 at The Soraya at Cal State Northridge. What a treat it was to hear an esteemed orchestra play some of the most famous musical works ever written in a big hall that, at least for this occasion, seemed like a smaller, more intimate setting.
What can be said about Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos that hasn’t already been said? They are approximately 300 years old! As I sat in The Soraya listening to these absolutely magical works of music, I almost had to pinch myself realizing that they were written three centuries ago —and yet they are timeless.
Bach’s initial title for them was “Six Concertos for Several Instruments,” and they were only later given the moniker “Brandenburg” because he presented them to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721. Like much of Bach’s music, the concertos were mostly unplayed and lost until they were rediscovered and published in 1850. However, they were still not performed widely until much more recently.
Each concerto, composed for a collection of different instruments, is a masterpiece in its own right. Unlike much music of the Baroque era, Bach’s music is filled with melodies that one can hum after a single hearing. In fact, much of Bach’s music is so ingrained in our lives and culture, we hardly notice until we hear it performed and recognize it as something we seem to have been born knowing. The Brandenburg Concertos are such music.
The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, led by violinist Margaret Batjer, performed the concertos as I’m sure Bach intended. The musicians obviously felt the same joy playing them as the audience did in hearing them. All the musicians stood (except for the cellos and double bass) and moved with the music. It was if the music were coming in waves from beyond through the fingers of the LACO musicians and spreading out over the audience. Although Batjer mostly took the lead violin, she did step aside for others to assume that role in different concertos.
Batjer and the LACO musicians played the concertos out of order (1, 4, 2 followed after the intermission by 5, 6, 3), which for purists might have been a problem, but it worked practically and logistically considering the instruments that were involved and that after each concerto some musicians had to leave while others entered. Other than Batjer, one cannot single out any individual musician because they were all outstanding. They were like one living organism filled with the life of Bach’s music.
There is no way anyone left the concert on Thursday evening without feeling happy and content. Such is the effect of hearing timeless masterpieces — music of the people as Batjer calls the Brandenburg Concertos — played by one of the treasures of Los Angeles, LACO, in such an intimate setting as The Soraya.
—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA
To watch a short video featuring Margaret Batjer talking about the Brandenburg Concertos, visit:
For a calendar of upcoming events at The Soraya, visit: