For the first half of my life, I fancied myself a serious musician. Perhaps a bit too serious, with youth orchestras, bands, private study of multiple instruments, college, music school and professional training playing significant roles in my life. Although I was traveling around the country for orchestra auditions, it wasn’t until just before graduation from the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music that I suddenly awoke to the realization that I really wasn’t very good. Certainly not good enough to pursue my passion professionally. It was a very difficult realization and, to this day, I wonder why no one ever pointed out this one small fact. And yet, I have never regretted my many years of professional training. It served as an intellectual basis for the remainder of my life and led to unending experiences that have enriched my life beyond my wildest dreams.
As per my bio on this very website, I did what every music student does at some point in their career – I began working in restaurants. It is a fascinating phenomenon to discover just how many musicians and artists gravitate to the world of food, restaurants, and booze. Restaurants and bars generally provide the time and opportunity for employees to pursue other interests and careers, which also feeds the all too familiar L.A. joke, “I’m not a server, I’m an actor.” Many in the industry refer to this as “the trap” – that elusive time / money combination that draws people in, only to discover ten years later that they are now restaurant professionals, rather than the professional musicians that they had always dreamed that they would one day become.
It came as a pleasant surprise to hear that the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, long a personal favorite, would be offering a new Westside Connections concert series exploring the relationships between music & the culinary arts. The more that I considered the possibilities, the more brilliant this idea became. I’ve always understood that there existed a very strong connection between these two worlds, and yet it has never been explored in any meaningful way. When I also read that they had invited Jonathan Gold to speak, I knew that they were onto something even more exciting that I had imagined.
Mr. Gold is revered for food writing in Los Angeles, but I also knew that he possessed a breadth of musical knowledge, including cello performance and professional music writing. Author Michael Ruhlman, whose work I have read, was invited, as was local Chef Susan Feniger. I was not quite sure how Ruhlman and Feniger figured into this scenario, but I immediately snapped up tickets for the entire series.
The approach for curating the series was fascinating, selecting music that either specifically referenced food in titles or lyrics, or most interestingly, was written by a composer that was also known to be a gourmand or serious cook. The speakers arrived on stage first, referencing their own personal connections to music. When Ruhlman began, he recounted receiving the email invitation and thinking “Why are they contacting me?” Incredibly, he shared prerecorded clips of the music played in the kitchen of the French Laundry before service begins each day, George Baker’s “Little Green Bag” from “Reservoir Dogs.” It was a fascinating account of one of the world’s greatest restaurants, from a perspective that apparently never occurred to him during the writing of an entire novel of his experiences in the kitchen. His reflections on how the music set the tempo for the work that was to come was so thought provoking that you could hear a pin drop in the theatre.
Mr. Gold recounted his years as a cellist (He was a member of the American Youth Symphony! Who Knew?) and as a music critic early in his writing career. Always ready with a witty one liner, my favorite arrived via his twitter account @thejgold, offering “Mom would have been so proud – onstage with the L.A. Chamber Orchestra tomorrow. Albeit without my cello.” Feniger offered an altogether differing perspective, that of a chef that travels the world to taste and learn, citing the inspiration that arrived in her life from great works of music. Always charming, Feniger invited her very good friends to attend the concert, the members of Ozomatli, who sat in the front row decked out as only rock musicians can, in stark and brilliant contrast to the usual classical concert goer, and as testament to the power of music and the many communities of mankind that it embraces.
I attended the final performance with a very dear old friend, a jazz musician who also works as a booking agent for jazz musicians throughout the area. A friend for many years, he is also the current owner of the piano that I could not fit onto the moving van when I relocated to San Francisco years ago. Whenever I reflect upon that old dream of a music career, I remember that beautiful, shiny black instrument. And then I smile, happy in the knowledge that it now has a good home, loved and played daily by a talented musician that brings joy to all those that are lucky enough to find themselves within earshot.
Curiously, my own tweets from the first concert noted one glaring omission in this series – the snack bar did not offer wine. This was a concert series curated specifically to explore the relationship between food and music, and yet the choices offered were stale catered snacks, water, soda, and coffee. Even Feniger noted that she wished she’d brought margaritas! (To her credit, however, she did park her Border Grill Food Truck in the parking lot.) And, incredibly, upon entering the theatre, giant signs flanked each doorway, reminders that no food or beverage was allowed in the theatre. Hilarious, but also pretty ridiculous. I suspect that the same rules would never apply if I were at an Ozomatli concert, and sadly perhaps one of the many reasons that most of the LACO concerts that I attend are rarely filled to capacity. Perhaps the world of classical music should take a master class in the art of entertainment from the food world?
We highly recommend The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra,
food for the soul.