Go For Baroque

By Victoria Looseleaf

There could be better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than going to a chamber music concert on the fifth floor of Los Angeles Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion – but we can’t think of any! Seriously, after several unsuccessful attempts, we made it to Le Salon de Musiques, a monthly concert series now in its second season under the artistic directorship of Francois Chouchan and Phillip Levy.

That the audience members are up-close-and-personal with the musicians is part of the appeal, along with the après concert fare: free-flowing champagne and hors d’oeuvres, the latter courtesy of Patina. Past concerts have included music of Brahms, Schubert, Mozart and the usual suspects, while the most recent offering, an all-Baroque program meant to recreate a salon in Versailles during the court of Louix XIV (left), also featured a pair of dancers.

Linda Tomko (below right) and Jill Chadroff, both scholars in the field as well as performers, donned hooped and corseted gowns and tiny-heeled dancing shoes to give an elegant glimpse into a nearly lost art form. (Since we teach Dance History at USC, we’re up to terpsichorean snuff on Le Roi de Danse (aka The Sun King), and how his peeps at court were required to take dance lessons. In fact, if there were any sort of missteps – from whence the term faux pas comes – banishment from court would most likely ensue!)  Photos above right and below by Henry Lim.

But we digress: With Patricia Mabee on harpsichord, Leif Woodward on viola de gamba and Susan Feldman on a period violin, the music was  enhanced by mezzo-soprano Monika Bruckner (we don’t know if she’s related to the composer), with the tunes finally beginning after musicologist Julius Reder Carlson, who, while well-schooled and well-meaning, went on too long with bloated talk about the Baroque era. (Hint: Most of us probably know that Baroque art was intended to evoke emotion and passion instead of the calm rationality that had been the hallmark of the Renaissance.) And instead of Reder Carlson blabbing about each piece (there were 10 on the bill), perhaps some short program notes would be in order. (Hello: We wrote the program notes for the Los Angeles Master Chorale for four seasons beginning in 2004, including introducing world premieres by Steve Reich, Christopher Rouse, and others…)

That said, we loved the opening number by Jean-Baptiste Lully, with Bruckner rendering a lovely aria from the opera Armide, after which the dancers displayed precise, fleet footwork to the opera’s lively Passacaille. And who knew that Marie Antoinette was a composer? Not many, but it’s possible she wrote C’est mon ami in between adorning herself (with help from ladies-in-waiting, of course) in elaborate frocks, piling her hair/wigs high and feasting on beaucoup de gâteau (cake, friends, lots of cake).

Other works included a Marin Marais solo, Chaconne, nimbly played by Woodward, his flying fingers making easy work of double and triple stops. (Admittedly, we’re partial to Marais’ The Bells of St. Genevieve…) Tomko also executed a solo to a Jean-Phillipe Rameau work, one she herself choreographed only this year. Mabee, too, took a solo turn with a Domenico Scarlatti sonata (a pity she didn’t dedicate it to Gustav Leonhardt, who recently died at age 83), followed by Bruckner warbling Domenico Cimarosa’s, E vero che in casa.

Completing the program: an aria from Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, and music and dance scenes from the ballet pantomime, Le Peintre Amoreux de son Modèle (The Painter in Love with his Model), choreographed by Auguste Ferrère. With the latter, we were treated to Chadroff in a pants role and Tomko the scolding adult who discovers her charge has been painting – gasp – his model (Bruckner), topless, at least in his own mind (and with magic marker on butcher paper).

A short, informative Q & A with the musicians followed (these can be so dreary, with sub-par questions often being posed), while an attentive waiter began pouring champagne for a thirsty audience. Although the acoustics are not the best on the fifth floor that now looks like a Marriott banquet hall, albeit one with great city views (we miss the room of days gone by, the one with a gorgeous bar, sumptuous banquettes and comfy sofas), it was the chairs – squeezed super-close together because of the dancers’ need for more floor space – that proved most painful, though nothing a little bubbly didn’t help.

A welcome addition to Los Angeles’ chamber music scene, Le Salon de Musiques is yet another way to experience fine music in our culturally rich city. (Click here for one of our many written rhapsodies on Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with Mahler coverage coming anon, our having zipped over to Disney Hall for an extraordinary Mahler Second after the chamber music concert.) Indeed, we’re looking forward to February 26, when Le Salon presents music of Arnold Bax, Fauré and Poulenc. (Btw, we loved the Labèque Sisters playing Poulenc at the Bowl last September; click here to read about that, including our KUSC interview with the sibs.)

A wonderful divertissement, Le Salon de Musiques now helps make Sundays a little more cozy: Yes, we may have the return of Downton Abbey, which we’re seriously addicted to (click here for our take on that), but the season ends to Homeland and Boardwalk Empire had left somewhat of a hole for us  (click here and here for our takes on those fabulous shows), a gap Le Salon can now help fill. So, til next time, à bientôt, mes amies!

P.S. We’re thrilled about most of the Oscar nominations, so kudos to The Artist, which we predict will take the award for best picture (click here for our musings), and Wim Wenders’ Pina, Germany’s entry for best documentary (click here for those thoughts). Thumbs up, as well, to Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life and its three noms, including for best director (click here). We’re not pleased, however, with Michelle Williams’ nod for My Week With Marilyn (click here). And what on earth happened to a best actor nod for Michael Fassbender, our dude of the moment (click here to, er, bone up on him). But whaddya gonna do. We know what we’ll be doing: We’ll be weighing in again soon on all of this Oscar stuff – click here for our Oscar coverage from last year, folks – so stay tuned!

About Victoria Looseleaf

Victoria Looseleaf is an award winning arts journalist and regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times, KUSC-FM radio, Dance Magazine, Performances Magazine and other outlets. She roams the world covering dance, music, theater, film, food and architecture. Have pen - and iPad - will travel! Her latest book, "Isn't It Rich? A Novella In Verse" is now available on Amazon. Thank you for reading! Cheers...
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