Monday, July 20, 2009

The Joy of Great Cities

Last night, at the invitation of friends of ours, my wife and I went to a concert of the Pasadena Pops at Descanso Gardens. I wasn't quite sure what to expect: I am always suspicious of "pops" concerts (I love the Rolling Stones, but really don't want to hear Satisfaction played by a 100 piece orchestra) and community orchestras vary tremendously in terms of quality and spirit. I can enjoy music that is less than perfectly polished, but I find indifference difficult to take.

The punchline, of course, is that the concert was a gas. In the first place, the band has a conductor named Rachael Worby, who introduces the pieces with charm and who, more importantly, knows how to make an orchestra sparkle. Her beat and cues were so clear that even the most obtuse player would know what she wants. Second, the program, featuring Saint Saens, Gershwin, and Chansons sung by Karen Akers, was delightful.

But the really extraordinary thing was the caliber of the playing; one does not expect such precision in rhythm and tuning from an orchestra in a city of 150,000 people. But of course, the orchestra is drawing on a population of musicians who are drawn to Los Angeles because of opportunity, but also because they can find lots of other good musicians. I went to the Pasadena Symphony Web Site, and alas could not find a list of the players. My suspicion is that a number of the players are studio musicians (or people hoping to become studio musicians). And so it is throughout the region. One can go to free student recitals around LA, and hear music, from Palestrina to Riley, performed well.

I suspect that this is an example of agglomeration at its best (I can only suspect because I know of no formal test), and is a reason why the Londons, Parises, New Yorks and Los Angeleses of the world retain their special places for long periods of time.


pabrams said...

So glad you enjoyed it, Richard. It is natural for those of us that have enjoyed the professionalism of summer concerts in the major cities, to be a bit skeptical after having tasted venues such as Chicago's Ravinia, Boston's Esplanade, Cleveland's Blossom Music Center and New York's Tanglewood. On the single occasion that I have heard the Pasadena Pops, I too, found the Descanso Gardens concerts delightful and well executed. It has a more intimate feel, to be sure. And what a gorgeous setting.

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