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Music review: Le Salon de Musiques at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion [Updated]

October 18, 2010 |  2:00 pm

Salon
A lot of people buy into the notion that classical chamber music exists on a lofty perch above the madness of so-called civilization. Le Salon de Musiques takes that idea literally.

This new chamber music series –- which presented its debut concert late Sunday afternoon –- is housed in a partitioned dining room way up on the fifth floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The windows are left undraped, so listeners get a sweeping view of the rest of the Music Center, City Hall and parts beyond. On a clear day (which Sunday wasn’t), it ought to be a stunning sight. 

The main thrust of Le Salon de Musiques, though, is an attempt to create a throwback to the 18th century salons of Marie Antoinette, whom founder/co-artistic director François Chouchan cites as his muse. The performance is relatively brief, about an hour of music, followed by another hour or so of “La Conversation,” at which the musicians and audience members are encouraged to mingle, talk about what they just heard, and sample French champagne and various delicacies inevitably provided by the folks at Patina. There is no stage, per se, yet the room sounds pretty good -– just dry and intimate enough for chamber music, with an appealing warmth in the mid-bass range. 

Ticket prices are set at $65, which is higher than the Coleman Concerts and Music Guild’s top ducats ($45) and the neighboring L.A. Philharmonic’s chamber music series ($61.25 top) but within the wide price range of Chamber Music in Historic Sites, whose format Le Salon most resembles.  An encouraging sign: The audience looked somewhat younger overall than the turnouts at some of our chamber music series. 

For now, the programming of eight concerts, one a month through May, is resolutely conservative –- mostly mainstream material from Mozart to Rachmaninoff, heavy on the basic Germans. Sunday’s opening edition was devoted entirely to Dvorák. Pianist Chouchan and violinist/co-artistic director Phillip Levy opened with the folksy Sonatina in G major and were joined by violinist Julie Gigante, violist Victoria Miskolczy and cellist David Low in the more expansive Piano Quintet, Opus 81. 

Both performances went off pretty well with hardly any surprises -- Chouchan and Levy treating the Sonatina as an equal partnership instead of violin with piano accompaniment and, in the Piano Quintet, the ensemble producing a richly upholstered well-balanced blend, mostly relaxed tempos, decent rhythm and energetically pushed codas. Levy prefaced each piece with informal verbal program notes (none was provided in the printed program), complete with demonstrations of key passages.

The “La Conversation” portion, however, is going to need some format tweaking in order to get a real dialogue going. A couple of questions were tossed to the musicians via a live microphone, but that quickly fizzled out, for people had already headed for the food line and were congregating in small groups. I would also think that a more provocative future program than the one presented Sunday might generate more interest in a lively discussion.  

The menu, by the way, mainly consisted of trays of cucumber, beef, chicken and salmon mini-sandwiches and dessert items. Patina refused to take Marie Antoinette at her alleged (and historically questionable) word, for they did not serve cake.

[Updated: An earlier version of this review said that the chamber group performed Dvorak's Piano Quartet, Opus 81. It is Piano Quintet, Opus 81.]

 –- Richard S. Ginell

Photo: Francois Chouchan, left, and Phillip Levy Performing at Le Salon de Musiques’ inaugural concert at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Credit: Carole Sternicha.

 

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