Music News & Reviews

Chamber Music Festival showcases LA music, musicians

Wife-and-husband violinists Akiko Tarumoto and Nathan Cole performed at the 2013 Chamber Music Festival of Lexington.
Wife-and-husband violinists Akiko Tarumoto and Nathan Cole performed at the 2013 Chamber Music Festival of Lexington. Lexington Herald-Leader

Los Angeles has a strong association with acting and film, and even certain brands of pop music — as much as we try, it's hard to forget the Sunset Boulevard hair-metal scene of the 1980s.

Classical music has tended to have the stronger association with East Coast metropolises, notably New York and Boston. Even out West, San Francisco gained a reputation as a classical hub before LA.

But SoCal has a thriving classical scene, and the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington is about to demonstrate that.

"Even in LA, it's sometimes hard to play programs of LA composers, even though the music is all around you," says Nathan Cole, the festival's artistic director.

Cole is a Lexington native and a Tates Creek High School graduate who is the first associate concert master of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. That puts him in the center of one of the most talked-about classical music organizations in the country, with superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel wielding the baton.

Cole even plays with a piece of Hollywood music history: Jack Benny's old Stradivarius, which is owned by the LA Phil.

But it took another Los Angeles connection to foster the idea of featuring Los Angeles at the Lexington festival.

This year's composer-in-residence is LA-based composer Adam Schoenberg, who also premiered a piece earlier this year with the Lexington Philharmonic as part of the Saykaly Garbulinska Composer-in-Residence partnership between the orchestra and the chamber fest.

"When the festival invited me, Nathan and I started talking about this idea of featuring Los Angeles music," Schoenberg said from his home. "It's such an inviting community to be a part of."

Both he and Cole say that Los Angeles' classical star is just rising, but the city has been filled with first-rate musicians and composer for decades, thanks in large part to the film industry.

"The history of studio musicians is they have to be great sight-readers," Schoenberg says. "They're expected to nail it the first time. So they have to be great."

One thing Cole said he learned quickly when he and his wife, fellow LA violinist Akiko Tarumoto, moved to Los Angeles in 2011 was that "outstanding performance is just expected there."

He also found that most of the orchestral and chamber music world differentiate between classical music and movie music, but in Los Angeles, "You can play all kinds of places and all kinds of music without feeling like you're playing down to anyone. The presumption is, everyone is open to great music and great playing."

Both Schoenberg and Cole cite composer Jeff Beal, whose Fear of Falling in Love will open the festival's concerts Wednesday night at the Fasig-Tipton Pavilion. Beal is best known for writing the score for the Neflix hit House of Cards.

"Many composers out here write for film and also have their own work and look for opportunities to have it performed," Schoenberg says.

The festival concerts won't just look at contemporary composers. It will look back at composers who worked in or had encounters with Los Angeles. They include Maurice Ravel, George Gershwin and even former LA Phil music director Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Cole says he is inspired by the collaborative and interactive culture of LA music.

"Nothing happens in a vacuum out here," Cole says. "When Stravinsky and Gershwin were here, they were working with film composers and always having meetings with directors."

And this week, the festival casts its widest net ever at its concerts, with the wind quintet WindSync, harpist Allegra Lilly and soprano Karen Slack. Cole says that was influenced in part by the wider palette of sound used by LA composers influenced by film composition.

It's a testament to a fertile music-making environment.

"On any evening, you can go find any type of music you're interested in," Schoenberg says. "It's very exciting."

Cole and Schoenberg hope audiences will feel the same about the festival.