For years during the 1990s when I lived in Koreatown, I’d attend the Sunday afternoon Bing Theater classical music concerts at LACMA. After almost a quarter of a century, the concerts have now moved a couple of miles east, to St. James’ Episcopal Church on Wilshire Boulevard and St. Andrew’s Place. Part of the larger “Great Music at St. James” series, the programs are free, open to the public, and start at 6 p.m.
You can go to kusc.org for weekly downloads of Sundays Live. But why not make the trek, at least once, and take in the whole experience?
On Dec. 29, I attended a concert featuring the Hollywood Piano Trio: Roberto Cani on violin, Robert deMaine on cello, and Inna Faliks on piano. The occasion was the celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday.
Free parking is available across from the church at 3926 Wilshire Blvd. The church is also close to the Wilshire/Western stop on the Metro Purple Line.
I arrived a bit early to find the courtyard beautifully decorated for Christmas with lights strung above and wrapping the tree trunks. Both the security guard and a friendly fellow concertgoer delivered a warm greeting. There are tables in the courtyard and also a large adjacent reception area with several more good-sized tables, plus restrooms and free coffee, tea, and cookies.
Many apparently make the concert part of their routine, meeting friends and hobnobbing beforehand. A large group of 70-somethings made merry, while several solo travelers sat quietly with hopeful smiles at their own tables.
The doors open at 5:30 p.m. St. James’ is worth visiting alone for its stunning Gothic Revival sanctuary, completed in 1926 and featuring tiled floors, redwood ceiling beams and trusses, and Judson Studio-designed stained-glass panels. The altar was banked with poinsettias and white candles. Wreaths adorned the arches.
Seating in the front pews fills up fast and is quite cozy. I nabbed an aisle seat and an older couple squeezed past, then stood to crane and wave at friends. “Oh there’s Rebecca!” “Look, Felix is down front!”
The man then proceeded to keep up a running commentary: the bike rack he bought “for a very good price” on eBay, “I don’t know who Masha is,” and “Lol means lots of laughs you know.” (This unfortunately extended into the concert: when during the sublime third movement of Beethoven’s “Archduke Trio” he stage-whispered to his partner, “I know this piece very well,” it was all I could do to not reach over and slap him).
But this is all part of the serendipitous fun of a free concert, and I enjoyed every moment.
The Sundays Live concerts consistently feature top-rate musicians. Roberto Cani, concertmaster of the LA Opera Orchestra, is internationally known. Robert deMaine is principal cellist for the LA Phil.
Ukranian-born Inna Faliks is professor of Piano and head of Piano at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music. The trio played from the area immediately in front of the altar, thereby adding to the up-close-and-personal aura.
In fact, the setting was so intimate that I could spot the gold buckles on Cani’s loafers, note that deMaine’s eyes were closed much of the time as he played, and worry that Faliks, who wore a glittery top with cutout shoulders, was cold (the church was freezing).
During Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Opus 32, I descended into reverie over a very interesting article I once read about page turners, the “ghostly stewards of the piano who work to remain invisible while ensuring a sparkling performance,” as Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Denver Post put it.
This page turner had a short beard, arty glasses, and dark red sneakers. Boy would I find that job nerve-racking. No descending into reverie there!
Beethoven’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Opus 97, popularly known as the “Archduke Trio,” is well-known to me, too, as I’ve listened to it probably 200 times in my car while driving the freeways and stuck in traffic.
So named because Beethoven dedicated it (along with, eventually, 13 other compositions) to his friend and patron Archduke Rudolph of Austria, the trio was completed in 1811, during what is known as Beethoven’s “middle period.”
I personally can never remember facts like those, however, and instead go by how the piece makes me feel, which in this case included an anguished longing for eternity, incoherent joy, and a deep compassion for all of humanity, especially the guy beside me who, similarly enraptured, had at last fallen into silence before Beethoven’s genius and the three masterful musicians of the Hollywood Piano Trio.
I’m not alone: Composer Igor Stravinsky once declared, “I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it.” Excellent music makes us want to do better, to be kinder, to engage in less idle chatter.
So don’t be shy, or think that classical music is “above” you. And if you’re a music expert and aficionado, you’ll love the concerts, too.
Upcoming programs include Neal Stulberg and flutist Anastasia Petanova (Jan. 19), Crossroads Chamber Orchestra (Jan. 26), and the New England Conservatory (Feb. 2).
Wishing one and all an adventure-filled 2020.