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LACO @ the Movies: Buster Keaton’s ‘The General’

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The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) will mark its 50th anniversary with a special fundraising event on Nov. 11 featuring Buster Keaton’s 1926 silent film “The General.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) and LACO is pulling out all the stops.

There’s a Campus to Concert Hall all-access season pass, offering students 30 concerts for just $30. There’s the $1.5 million gift from philanthropists Carol and Warner Henry for the principal oboe chair. There are guest artists and conductors, world premieres and an innovative chamber music and discussion series that spans much of the city.

And on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m., there will be a special fundraising event: LACO @ the Movies: Buster Keaton’s “The General.”

Scott Harrison, LACO’s executive director, said, “ ‘The General’ is such a wonderful event for us because it really brings together a few different strands of what LACO is. Hollywood has been very much a part of LACO’s identity from the start. We were founded by a gentleman named James Arkatov who’s turning 98 this year, I believe. The original musicians performed movie and television soundtracks for the studios. They were phenomenal, as you can imagine, because the chops and the skills required to do that sort of work are exceptionally high. But they were also looking for more of a creative and artistic outlet. They wanted a way to perform the music they loved and connect directly with audiences.

“We started doing these concert movie project events 30 years ago,” Harrison continued. “Now it’s really popular to have a live movie with a live orchestra and to relive classics and do current movies, but, anecdotally, as far as I can tell, we were one of the first orchestras to bring music back to the concert stage.”

In the past few years, they’ve notched up the excitement by bringing the series back to some of the great Broadway District movie theaters that are undergoing a renaissance along with the rest of Downtown L.A.

“The Ace Theater, the old United Artists Theater, is just gorgeous. It’s a temple to the movies,” said Harrison. “The other exciting component is that we’ve brought on a new artistic voice: Jeff Beal, Emmy-winning composer for ‘House of Cards.’ We’re taking a classic 1926 silent film and pairing it with a new score by a top Hollywood composer.”

LACO’s repertoire as an orchestra spans 500 years.

“We go back to the Baroque, we play every style that’s known. So to take a little bit of old Hollywood and mix it with some new Hollywood and have just a beautiful, exciting evening — we’re all thrilled. It’s going to be an amazing night,” he said. “It’s ironic that a craft that requires so much interior skill and discipline, so many thousands of hours of practicing in isolation, only comes truly alive when an audience interacts with the music.”

Harrison believes LACO has an obligation and responsibility to make those audiences as diverse and representative as possible.

“We live in a city that is maybe the most diverse city in the country, if not the world,” he explained. “Music is a powerful tool of cultural diplomacy: a unifier, a forum, a place for meeting and discovering some of who you are and maybe who others are. What type of person doesn’t live in Los Angeles? To look out and see the assembled folks being drawn in is one of the most exciting and heartening things about what we do.”

To that end, LACO has also created many programs that take the musicians off the stage and to unexpected places. “We took the orchestra to Glendale Memorial Hospital last year. We’ve done concerts in office buildings. We visit elementary and middle and high schools. We’re scoring all sorts of venues across the city, where we can take the bureaucracy or the rigmarole or the obstacles out of the way of encountering the music.”

The members of LACO are not only high-level musicians; they’re also ambassadors in a way. “We have a really wonderful partnership with an organization called the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles,” said Harrison. “We try to share the best of L.A. that we have, go to different parts of L.A. to learn about the best of what they have. We try to connect in the middle, in a really democratic and transformative manner.”

Recently, LACO did a community concert as part of the Grand Performances series at Downtown L.A.’s California Plaza. The Venezuelan-born conductor, maestro Carlos Izcaray, addressed the audience in both English and Spanish. The program notes were also in both languages. “It was a bilingual service, so to speak, just like you have, I understand, at some of your Catholic Masses.”

As for “The General,” the silent comedy features stunt sequences, hundreds of extras, a speeding locomotive falling into a gorge and a love story. Writer-actor-director extraordinaire Orson Welles called the film “the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made and perhaps the greatest film ever made.”

“It’s going to be really festive,” said Harrison. “We’re going to encourage people to dress up in their most dapper, throwback outfits and have a sort of after-party with different activities going on in the lobby. So it’s going to be not only a great concert, but also just a really fun party.”

 

Heather King is a blogger, speaker and the author of several books.

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