January 20, 2021

Topanga Symphony’s 29th Summer Concert Shows the Diversity of Classical Music



Topanga Symphony’s 29th Summer Concert Shows the Diversity of Classical Music

Ilene Graff narrator for Jerome Kesslerís original piece, How the Aardvark Lost His Voice, with the composer/conductor and the Topanga Symphony on Aug 28.

It was the summer of 1982 when the Topanga Symphony first took the stage of the Community House to bring classical music to the Canyon. Jerome Kessler, music director and conductor at the very first concert, showed his capable and creative energy.

Now, 29 years later, Kessler and the immense talents of the musicians continued to dazzle the audience with original works by Kessler and other classical composers.

An eclectic concert of the unique and traditional, the summer concert of 2011 reflected upon the diverse characteristics of classical music, beginning with the Oberon Overture by Carl Maria von Weber that showed off the tremendous talent of the violin section. Led by Concertmaster Rebecca Rutkowski and Assistant Concertmaster and Topangan Kathy Shaw, the string section made it look easy and sound beautiful.

Ilene Graff was the narrator for Kessler’s original piece, How the Aardvark Lost His Voice. Beginning the work with her rich award-winning singing voice, Graff sang of how the tale she was about to tell may sound curious, but began with “Once upon a time…” as all good tales should. The orchestra then expressed a playful tune that evoked thoughts of cartoon imagery. Kessler, an accomplished cellist, has played for “The Simpsons” music tracks ever since the popular TV show began. He also plays for “Family Guy” music soundtracks. These experiences, along with his natural persuasion to infuse orchestral music with a humorous twist, made this piece fun for the capacity audience.

The piece verbally paints a picture of Kessler’s imagination of events in the life of an aardvark on the African plains: the violins screech as the aardvark pulls out, with his long tongue, his favorite food, termites, and a variety of unique sounds created by the instruments of the orchestra represent other animals from warthogs to pythons. Whimsical and comedic, Kessler brought the talents of Ms. Graff and the orchestra to light with expressive storytelling in words and music.

The intermission break allowed the classical music lovers to indulge in refreshments and conversation. The hot August summer day brought cool evening breezes, perfect for eating Board of Director Gaby Smith’s brownies and drinking wine surrounded by our jewel on the hill, the Community House.

Many people make these concerts a reality and deserve recognition: Orchestra Manager Ernie Demontreux; Board of Directors President Arthur Mintz; Board Member Michele Acker; Traffic Conductor Steve Ray; and Community House Caretaker Joe Pileggi. Former Symphony President and current Membership Chairman, Jack Smith missed this concert due to illness. Kessler announced to the audience his regards to Jack for a speedy recovery. Generous donations from Supervisor Zev Yaraslovsky’s office, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the Topanga Community House, and the Friends of the Topanga Symphony continue to make these “free” concerts possible.

Beginning the second half of the program was another piece written and conducted by Kessler. Showing his more serious side of composition, Kessler used long time principal trumpet, Topangan Wayne Hoard, to lead the Country Dance for Brass Octet. It included the principal players of each brass section including Julie Callahan Gross on French Horn, Mark Geiger on trombone and Peter Reale on tuba. Along with their colleagues, the brass octet music sparkled as much as their instruments under the lights of the Community House stage.

The final piece of the program was one of Antonin Dvorak’s favorite compositions, Symphony #8 in G, Opus 88. This incredibly beautiful classical work featured solos from some of the orchestra’s most talented players, among them, Topanga mom and principal oboist, Margreet Ray. Her oboe played sweetly above the mixture of instruments and expressed the notes on the page with brilliance as she always has during her many years of dedication to the orchestra.

The deeply emotional Dvorak brings a powerful, suspenseful, yet delicate blend of music to his favorite piece, completing the evening’s concert with repertoire that a classical music audience craves.

The next performance will be the afternoon of November 20 featuring an original piece by long time Topanga Symphony violist, composer and Beach Cities Symphony conductor Barry Brisk.

To make a donation to the Topanga Symphony, for more information, visit topangasymphony.com. Our community orchestra needs your support to keep these amazing musicians playing in the hills of Topanga.