Mandolinist Avi Avital and L.A. Chamber Orchestra Heat Up Winter With Vivaldi

By Elizabeth H. Onodera

Photo credit: Harald Hoffmann / Deutsche Grammophon

Photo credit: Harald Hoffmann / Deutsche Grammophon

As part of its “Baroque Conversations” series launched this year, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra presented “Avi Avital and the Four Seasons” at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica on December 14.  The coastal crowd clad in a sartorial menagerie ranging from down jackets, bulky sweaters and wool capes was in a wintery mood.

LACO Executive director Scott Harrison gave opening remarks and introduced board secretary, Shaheen Nanji who shared her poignant memories of the late Hanna M. Kennedy, an ardent longtime board member who spearheaded LACO’s Silent Film series for 25 years. Next, concertmaster Margaret Batjer warmed the audience by introducing the Vivaldi-focused evening with with her thoughts about how her preparation for the program filled her with a sense of joy about the orchestra performing Vivaldi during the December holidays.

Renowned since its founding in 1968 as an artistic outlet for gifted musicians based in the recording industry of Southern California, virtuosity and verve was on full display with its regular soloists and orchestra in the background.  Concerto for Two Violins in G Minor was performed by Josefina Vergara and Sarah Thornblade; and Concerto for Two Violins in A Minor by concertmaster Margaret Batjer and Tereza Stanislav. The driven pace of the dueling violins in the latter concerto ended on a strong cadence aptly setting the stage for guest artist Avi Avital.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is a staple piece of LACO and has been performed over 35 times since the chamber orchestra’s inception. In a creative programmatic move, Grammy-nominated international mandolinist Avi Avital was invited to perform the violin soloist portion using his original arrangement adapting the work for the mandolin.

Avi Avital won the hearts of the audience by sharing his earliest memories of enjoying classical music as a 5-year-old and brought uproarious laughter when he shared a story about how he mistook the “Summer” section of Vivaldi’s work as representing winter until it was pointed out to him as a 16-year-old teen, explaining how Vivaldi’s interpretation of Venetian summers sounded like winter to his ears in comparison to Israeli summers he experienced while growing up.

Rather than seeing Vivaldi’s piece as a musical recreation of nature, Avital encouraged the audience to focus on how it feels to experience the seasons.  He showed a dazzling exhibition of perfect pitch, precision in fretboard work and pick-strumming tremolos in a unique interpretation of the work.  The performance was nothing short of phenomenal and brought concert goers to their feet in 4 standing ovations.  The evening ended on a passionate note with an encore consisting of Avi Avital’s mandolin arrangement of a Bulgarian folk song Busimis.

Next in LACO’s 2018-1019 season is Mozart and Beethoven’s Fifth as part of its orchestral series on January 26th at the Alex Theatre and at Royce Hall on the 27th.

Elizabeth H. Onodera is a native San Franciscan.  A translator and a researcher, she also writes about food and culture in various social media outlets as ‘foodshutterbug’.