Music review: iPalpiti crosses L.A.'s cultural divide at Disney

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Frank Gehry had always hoped that Walt Disney Concert Hall would become a living room for Los Angeles. It’s a nice sentiment for a spread-out megalopolis that has become more a collection of communities than ever before. Traffic and culture keep us apart. And don’t even get me started on how concert culture has become so stratified in an Internet age that once promised the opposite.

Yet early Saturday evening, for the concert of the iPalpiti Orchestral Ensemble of International Laureates, the audience at Disney included about as breathtakingly broad a cross section of Angelenos as I have ever encountered in a single place. Young people fetchingly dressed as if for a club mingled with typically casual teenagers in shorts falling off the waist and sneakers. Well-tailored couples adorned in expensive jewelry were on hand as were families who might have mistaken this Disney venue for a different one in Anaheim. Asians, Latinos, Anglos, African Americans – all ages – were part of the mix. So was a cadre of naval cadets. And at least one transvestite. Russian was among the languages spoken near my seat.

The occasion was a concert, centered on the Chopin and Schumann bicentennials. The chamber string orchestra comprised outstanding young soloists from 19 countries (their flags draped behind the stage) who had been invited to take part in the annual iPalpiti festival of chamber concerts in small venues around town and this more gala Disney event. In the program booklet, there were letters of greeting from the governor of California, the mayors of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, along with a statement of support from Queen Fabiola of Belgium.

Clearly a lot was at stake in this attempt to unify through classical music. People had come for different reasons: Tickets were handed out to various schools and agencies; a dinner for the benefactors followed the concert. Perhaps a few aficionados were enticed by the soloists: the Romanian pianist Luiza Borac and the German cellist Julius Berger, both with big reputations in Europe but less common on the U.S. concert circuit. A further curiosity was that Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Schumann’s Cello Concerto were performed in rare string orchestra versions.


And clearly, the conductor Eduard Schmieder, the founder of the admirable iPalpiti, believes that music remains a functional universal language. In his letter to the audience, he cited Einstein (who said that relativity’s discovery was a musical intuition), Plato and Pushkin. Perhaps, Schmieder is right. The crowd, after a little settling down during the opener – a late Mozart Adagio and Fugue – was still and involved.

Schmieder is an authoritative conductor. A tall and serious Russian of the old school, he goes in for intense expression and dug-in string sonorities that reverberated through Disney with so much power that I wondered for a moment whether the loudspeakers on stage were plugged in. They weren’t; they were left over from a Lyle Lovett concert in Disney the night before.

Borac provided Chopin’s concerto with refinement, eloquence and no over-indulgence of display. The pianist, like the strings behind her, revealed a rich sound. A string orchestra had been Chopin’s first intention for his concerto, and Schmieder reconstructed it from parts he found in Warsaw. I missed the horn and winds in the Romance, the middle movement. But Chopin was never noted for his orchestration, and Borac, if on the severe side, provided interest and color enough, although not quite the dazzle that can be found on her illuminating recordings of George Enescu’s solo piano music.

Meanwhile, Berger was her opposite in the Schumann concerto. Playing what his biography describes as one of the world’s oldest cellos (a 1566 Amati) and one that looked authentically antique, Berger gave a remarkably rhapsodic performance. He lost himself in the music, almost embarrassingly so. He even conducted with his bow and, with gaping wide mouth, silently sang along with the strings.

He went in for interpretive extremes. When fast, he was very fast and displayed a tight tone. When slow, he was very slow, soaking in liquid, vibrato-laden expression. The string re-orchestration by Rene Koering is modest (there is an immodest string version by Shostakovich), and the concerto here became like potent chamber music on steroids.
The generous program also included a short new work, Ronald Royer’s “In Memoriam Frédéric Chopin” for solo clarinet (Tibi Cziger), cello (Yves Dharamraj) and strings – a gloomy new fantasy on Chopin’s last Nocturne, Op. 72, No. 1. It ended with a brilliantly characterized account of Benjamin Britten’s ingenious “Simple Symphony.” And, from what I could tell, a lot of delight among all the ranks.

-- Mark Swed