Your music lesson is in the mail

MOST of us have had the experience: Interrupting a conversation with our concert-going companion to grab a few hurried moments scanning the program notes. As the lights go down, we’ve had time to see in what year the composer was born, or whether the symphony was written for Napoleon or an obscure nobleman -- and that’s about it.

It’s a bit like cramming for a particularly difficult college exam, and about as much fun.

Now the Los Angeles Philharmonic has come up with something it considers a solution to the problem: FastNotes, a brief set of program notes to be e-mailed free to interested parties a week or so before a concert. Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, the notes will include links to iTunes and similar websites that will allow FastNotes subscribers to hear a brief passage of the music to be played.

Deborah Borda, the Philharmonic’s president, says the computer terminal is a natural place to hit people with musical information. “Where are you more likely to be,” she asks, “other than, in L.A., behind the wheel of your car?”


Joan Cumming, the orchestra’s director of marketing, says she came up with the idea after speaking to members of the audience and sensing a need. (Of course, the Philharmonic also offers before-concert talks and puts some information on its website before concerts.)

Cumming says the service will be especially valuable for “Beethoven Unbound,” the season-long concert series that will pair works by the most famous of all composers with compositions by such contemporary figures as Lindberg, Knussen and Dutilleux, on whom audiences might welcome a primer.

Whoever the composer, she says, “if people can hear a piece of music more than once, especially before they see it in concert, then they can say, ‘Oh, I get it.’ ”

Borda hopes the notes will help give audiences a sense of how concert programs take shape and why she and music director Esa-Pekka Salonen decide to combine certain works and composers during the same evening. “It’ll put a window on the juxtapositions, the interrelationships. On how we put the cocktail together -- how much vermouth, how much gin, how many olives. You don’t take a piece and just put it there: It has to make sense in context, intellectually but also aesthetically.”


As of noon Wednesday -- just a day after FastNotes had been announced -- the service had already enrolled about 2,000 subscribers. The proof of the martini, of course, is in the tasting.

To sign up, go to

-- Scott Timberg