A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

On Feb. 9, while many Angelenos were watching the Winter Olympics, taking place in Sochi, Russia, a capacity crowd of music lovers were on the fifth floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion listening to an all-Russian program of chamber music at Le Salon de Musiques’ monthly concert.

The program began with Two Canzonas With Two Dances Op. 43 for violin and piano by Nikolai Medtner. Medtner, a friend and colleague of Rachmaninoff, never attained the stature as a composer of his older friend, although he did have a small group of devoted followers and supporters. Like Rachmaninoff, he was an extremely accomplished pianist. These two works for violin and piano were written in 1925 when Medtner was 45 and reveal that when other Russian composers like Prokofiev and Stravinsky had long since escaped the traditions of Western classical and romantic music, he was still composing in that style. Nevertheless, these two canzonas offered a delightful juxtaposition of melancholy and playfulness, both of which violinist Movses Pogossian and pianist Edith Orloff handled admirably.

The next works on the program were two very early pieces for cello and piano by Rachmaninoff: the Op. 2 Prelude and Danse Orientale and the Op. 3 No. 1 Elegie in E Flat minor. Of course, Rachmaninoff epitomizes the Russian Romantic movement as evidenced in his popular piano concertos and symphonies, especially the Symphony No. 2, and works for solo piano. These works for cello and piano are rather simple compared to his later works, but beautiful nonetheless. Cellist and Co-Artistic Director of Le Salon de Musiques (along with founder Francois Chouchan) John Walz got a rich, deep tone from his custom and locally made cello. His passion was evident in his dynamic and focused playing.

The highlight of the afternoon was the Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32 by Anton Arensky. The trio, written in 1894, is a tribute to both classicism and romanticism, with a soaring first movement, a playful scherzo, a melancholy Elegia and a turbulent Finale. In fact, the Arensky trio, from the key of D minor to its overall tone, harkens back to Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio Op. 49; they both arouse intense emotions. Pogossian and Walz were joined by pianist Mona Golabek for an intensely personal and moving performance. All of them shone on their particular instruments. Golabek handled the difficult piano part very respectably (Arensky — like Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms, who all wrote piano trios — was an outstanding pianist.). The audience was indeed moved by the energy amongst the performers and the beauty of this masterpiece.

Le Salon de Musiques isn’t just about the music, which is always first-rate; it is also about the conversation. In the tradition of the salons of the 19th century, the aptly named Salon takes place in an intimate atmosphere where the audience sits within feet of the performers and can observe every nuance of their playing. After the concert, audience members are invited to ask questions of the performers and then to mingle with them and each other over champagne and gourmet sandwiches and desserts.

Le Salon de Musiques is truly an exceptional experience in LA where chamber music lovers can hear great music performed by accomplished musicians in an intimate setting and at a reasonable price. Moreover, the artistic directors are always pushing the envelope to bring heretofore unheard, or rarely heard, works by both established and less well-known composers, as well as contemporary works. If you haven’t yet attended Le Salon de Musiques, you owe it to yourself to partake of this cultural treasure in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

—Henry Schlinger, Culture Spot LA

The next concert in Le Salon de Musiques series will feature music by Liszt, Scharwenka (two USA premieres) and Clara Schumann on Sunday, March 9, at 4 p.m.  For information and tickets, (310) 498-0257 or www.LeSalonDeMusiques.com.

There was much talk at the Salon about Mona Golabek’s one-woman show, “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” based on her book about her mother’s escape from Nazi-controlled Austria on the Kindertransport, which is returning to the Geffen Playhouse Feb. 28-March 9. For a chance to hear Golabek in a theatrical setting, try this very affecting and critically acclaimed show.