Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Review By Willard Manus

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) opened the third season of its innovative Westside Connections chamber music and discussion series on March 3 at The Broad Stage, with subsequent performances on March 24 and April 28. Curated by LACO concertmaster Margaret Batjer, the series took as it theme, music and the mind, and featured chamber music played by LACO's virtuosos and discussions with prominent neuroscientists. The three fascinating concerts explored various questions, including: whether depression is a hindrance or a boon to an artist's creativity; how the evolution of the brain, music and emotion are related; and whether music can actually alter the brain.

In the first of a three-concert series, soprano Elissa Johnston and pianist Robert Thies joined LACO principals on Thursday, March 3. The all-Schumann chamber music program included intensely emotional selections from his Myrthen and Lisederkreis song cycles, the Romance in A major for Violin and Piano, Märchenbild for Viola and Piano and the exuberant Piano Quartet in E-flat major.

The 90-minute concert opened and concluded with talks by special guest Dr. Peter Charles Whybrow, UCLA Professor of Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He discussed modern research on depression, the brain and creativity to Schumann's particular artistic genius. Did Schumann's 'manic period' actually enhance his output as a composer? Using Schumann as his prime example, Whybrow examined the links between depression and creativity, and examined the ways music can affect the human state.

The second concert in the series explores how the evolution of the brain, music and emotion are related. The evening includes a conversation with Dr. Damasio, the director of USC's Brain and Creativity Institute and bestselling author of Self Comes to Mind. Damasio will discuss the brain's evolution as revealed by new research on the importance of emotion in decision-making. The first musical work on the program, composer Bruce Adolphe's Self Comes to Mind, is a moving interaction between science and art inspired by Damasio's book. The performance combines a dialogue between two distinct sonic colors, the solo cello and percussion, with the projection of stunning images by brain imaging specialist Dr. Hanna Damasio and a reading by Dr. Antonio Damasio of poetry he wrote for the piece.

LACO principals, cellist Andrew Shulman and percussionist Wade Culbreath, and guest percussionist Kenneth McGrath will be the performers. Damasio will also read excerpts from the personal letters of Beethoven, interwoven with a performance of the composer's joyous 1799 Septet in E-flat major for Strings and Woodwinds, Op. 20 featuring Margaret Batjer, violin; Roland Kato, viola; Trevor Handy, cello; Edward Meares, bass; Joshua Ranz, clarinet; Kenneth Munday, bassoon; and Kristy McArthur Morrell, horn. The evening concludes with an opportunity for the audience to ask questions of Damasio and the musicians.

On April 28th, LACO's guest is Dr. Hunt Batjer, the Michael J. Marchese professor and chair of the department of neurological surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He will discuss how experiencing music can contribute to the production of new brain cells throughout one's life. He shares his insights on the role music plays in altering normal neurological and cardiovascular reactions to life-threatening stress and explains why the same piece of music gives comfort to one person but makes another cry.

On the same evening, LACO musicians with Jeffrey Kahane at the keyboard, will perform Mozart's Oboe Quartet in F major, K.370 - ranging from sparkling lightness to soulful poignancy - and Brahms's dark, passionate Piano Quintet in F minor, Op.34.

Tickets are available online at laco.org or 213-622-7001.