A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Le Salon de Musiques opened their 2014-15 season on Oct. 12 in characteristic style – intellectual, affective, intimate and delivered with superb artistry.   Director François Chouchan never ceases to amaze me with this series. Now in his fifth season, he has defined a unique niche among Los Angeles chamber music experiences far away from the well-trodden path.

The sweeping vistas of the iconic urban Los Angeles hillside neighborhoods provided a unique ambiance that transformed the fifth-floor Gold Room venue of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion into a comfortable “salon” in which listeners can be close to the music and musicians.

Musicologist Julius Reder-Carlson illuminated the theme of the concert and described the historic context of each work, offering insight into the motivations and times of the composers.  I really enjoyed his extemporaneous lecture on what “Neo-Romantic” meant to these English-language composers from the tumultuous beginnings of the 20th-century and their connections to Barber and Britten.

John Ireland’s Phantasie in A minor for Piano Trio opened the program.  The ensemble was immediately engaging, and the salon format only intensified the effect; the closeness of the artists to the audience delivered every nuance of this marvelous work.  Violinist Serena McKinney played an 18th-century instrument that had a distinctly deep, rich timbre, and she understood the music and relayed its passionate soul with a knowing touch.  She was delicate and controlled, yet emotive.  Her performance on this piece was one of the highlights of the program.

The West Coast premiere of Howard Hanson’s Concerto “da Camera” for Piano and String Quartet in C sounded somewhat familiar, belying its obscurity.  The ensemble took a special interest in the project, and the players had to transcribe their individual parts from a single copy of this rare score that pianist Adam Neiman had acquired.  The performance had a spontaneity to it that was delightful, but I can only imagine how beautiful this music would be given many performances in the repertoire of a fine quartet.  This composition truly deserves such treatment.

Neiman showed why he is celebrated as a star among pianists of his generation.  He had extraordinary control of the instrument, and was creatively expressive and technically flawless.  His leadership was effective and served as a beacon for the ensemble as he would cue individual players with the superbly nuanced control of his piano.  There was a palpable social cognition among the performers that was linked to Neiman’s expressions and postures, giving the group a surprising unanimity of purpose.  His experience with this rarely performed score came through.

The most substantive work of the afternoon was the Piano Quintet in D minor by Frank Bridge.  Violinist Jessica Guideri led the ensemble with remarkable style, and she and McKinney blended seamlessly together.  Violist Yi Zhou had a delightfully expressive manner that added warmth and body to the sound.   What a treat it was to hear cellist John Walz in such close quarters.   He generated a dynamic energy that grounded the quartet, and together he and his instrument were sublime as they sang Bridge’s lyric passages.

After the performance the audience conversed with the musicians while sipping champagne and savoring the afterglow of the music.  The personal anecdotes on the music, instruments and their dynamic as an ensemble made the evening special.

I keep coming home to Le Salon de Musiques!  Bravo!

~Theodore Bell, Culture Spot LA

For information about upcoming concerts, visit www.lesalondemusiques.com/.