ARTS & CULTURE
Review

Weilerstein, Hakhnazaryan lift L.A. Chamber Orchestra with youthful vigor

@joshweilerstein, Narek Hakhnazaryan lend youthful vigor to L.A. Chamber Orchestra concert

Youth was served in Glendale’s Alex Theatre by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Making his debut on the podium with LACO on Saturday night was Joshua Weilerstein -- born 1987, not long ago a Los Angeles Philharmonic Dudamel Fellow, more recently assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic. The soloist was the Armenian cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan, born in 1988, one of the last protegés of the revered Mstislav Rostropovich. And there was a piece on the program by Joseph Hallman, born in 1979, which made him the oldster of the three.

At the pre-concert talk, an audience member made note of the irony of this youthful trio onstage and the advanced average age of those attending the concert, wondering how classical musicians are going to attract younger audiences. The enthusiastic Weilerstein was prepared for that one, advocating ideas that make links between pop culture, contemporary music and the classical repertoire.

I suppose this program may have been one small step in that direction in that Hallman’s “imagined landscapes: six Lovecraftian elsewheres” for eight players (a West Coast premiere) was triggered by the composer being lulled to sleep by some H.P. Lovecraft horror stories.

Weilerstein made the highly unusual move of splitting the piece into two nearly equal parts and placing each section at the beginning of each half of the concert -- all to punch the piece’s sound world into the listener’s memory twice. With this piece it could be done, for Hallman’s sequence of six brief movements share the same unified, inconclusive, creepy, quiet ambience and could have been divided at any point.

That said, the murmured trills and the scratchy, squeaking, knocking sounds from the string instruments, plus vocal noises from the players and other bumps in the night, wore thin even in two separate portions.

After the first Hallman segment, Hakhnazaryan did a tremendously effective job with the Saint-Saens Cello Concerto No. 1, singing slowly and soulfully through the lyrical portions, with flawless intonation and impeccable incisive technique in the more agitated portions.

Finishing to tumultuous applause in a city known for its large Armenian population, Hakhnazaryan exclaimed, “I feel like I’m in Armenia.” He then played an encore dedicated to this month’s observance of the centennial of the 1915 Armenian genocide. It was the Sonata for Cello Solo No. 1 by Adam Khudoyan, a powerful piece with tempestuous mood swings, beautifully and passionately performed.

Weilerstein and the chamber orchestra closed the concert with a vigorous performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 (“Jupiter”), a piece that we sometimes forget was the work of a young man of 32, albeit wise beyond his years. While conventionally paced, Weilerstein’s rendition contained sudden, almost impulsive dynamic contrasts, and his knees bent and feet hopped around as if he was trying to lift the music skyward. LACO expertly reveled in the fugues and flourishes of the finale. Everything sounded -- again, that word -- youthful.

The program repeats at 8 p.m. Sunday at Royce Hall, UCLA. $26-$120. (213) 622-7001, www.laco.org

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