Monday, January 26, 2009

LUCO at Meany Hall

It’s always a thrill to watch a group of artists rise to the occasion. The artists I’m thinking of here are the Lake Union Civic Orchestra and the occasion was their concert on Saturday night at the University of Washington’s Meany Hall. This was the first time they had performed at Meany, which is a larger auditorium than their usual venue in Town Hall. And at first the larger space seemed to be presenting them with some problems. The all-German program opened with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries and the strings seemed to have difficulty filling the concert hall. They seemed a little weak, watery. They needed to project more. However, since most of the heavy lifting in Ride of the Valkyries is done by the brass and percussion, this wasn’t too much of a problem. The piece came off with a bang, even though it struck me that the strings hadn’t quite found their groove.

However, when baritone Clayton Brainerd came out to sing Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music the groove was found. Brainerd is a mountain of man – well over six feet tall, broad-shouldered, big-bellied, a line-backer with a voice to match. He has presence. One pities the actors who have to play mere giants opposite him in Das Rheingod. Now, Brainerd had no problem projecting into the auditorium. And whether it was his example or the power of the music or the excellent conducting of Christophe Chagnard, the strings finally sang, easily filling the hall to match Brainerd’s beautiful performance.

Mahler’s First Symphony made up the second half of the evening and that, too, was outstanding: fresh, engaging, rousing when it needed to be and at times beautifully meditative. Of course, if you don’t believe me, you should at least believe the behavior of the two or three dozen children in the audience, none of whom started whining or crying to leave during the concert. (Even though I did see one or two tots jolt awake suddenly when the final movement’s fortissimo hit them.) By the end of the evening there was no doubt that this ensemble was capable of playing larger venues.

LUCO is a non-profit orchestra whose performers are almost all volunteers. And part of the charm of the concert was the cozy ambiance between the musicians and the audience, many of whom are family members or friends (full disclosure – I know no one in LUCO.). During the intermission many of the musicians could be seen socializing in the lobby with the rest of us. These are people who love their art. They are passionate about music.

Hopefully, if they ever again decide they want to just let loose and kick out the jams, mofos, (note to Jimmy Page: Wagner is the hammer of the Gods!) they will return to Meany Hall. Till then, you can find them at their regular home at Town Hall where they will be performing two more concerts for the season, one on April 17th, the other on June 19th.


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