I could really never be accused of being a fancy-pants kind of person with fancy-pants tastes and inclinations, but I have been known, from time to time, to wipe the dust off my finest duds, slap on a couple pounds of make-up and run a brush through my hair for an evening of class. Case in point: the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra “à la carte” series, which runs annually to raise funding for LACO: benefiting their community engagement programs as well as the concert series so they may continue to bring music and joy to others.
What exactly is an a la carte series, you ask? From the press release: “Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) offers music lovers an opportunity to enjoy five intimate, elegant and entertaining “LACO à la carte” fundraising events pairing delectable international cuisine and exclusive musical performances in the spectacular private homes of the consuls general of the Czech Republic, Armenia and Austria as well as at Pacific Palisades’ historic Villa Aurora (Germany) and a magnificent private estate in Pasadena (China). Adding a special flourish to the season and illustrating that music truly knows no boundaries, each event features a different style of cuisine complimented by a salon performance by LACO musicians and guest artists.”
Out of the five programs, I was able to attend two: Germany à la carte, at the historic Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades, and Austria à la carte held at the Brentwood home of the Austrian Consul General. Each night featured salon performances – which is an old world carry-over term for a small group of musicians performing in an intimate setting. I would guess that no more than 80 people seemed to be in attendance at both the Germany and Austrian a la carte evenings, so I count myself lucky to have been able to be there!
Food for both the Germany and Austrian à la carte was provided by The Spot Gourmet.
Germany à la carte
Official Description: Concertmaster Margaret Batjer is spotlighted on the occasion of her 15th anniversary with LACO at a cosmopolitan evening showcasing the culinary riches of Germany hosted by Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades. This spectacular artists’ residence and historic landmark, set high on a hill overlooking the Santa Monica Bay, is described as a “true castle by the sea” by German novelist and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann, who, along with playwright Bertolt Brecht and filmmaker Fritz Lang, is one of many famed émigrés to have socialized there with such icons as Charlie Chaplin. Batjer performs a selection of works tailored to the enchanted evening.
It was quite the journey to get up to Villa Aurora as it was at the tippy top of a hill, the very opposite of where attendees had to park. A van took people in sets of six, winding up and up until we arrived at a very unassuming gate. Going through said gate delivered guests to a fabulous tiled courtyard of the Moorish artists retreat Aurora Villa.
Descending to the Courtyard
My favorite architectural feature of Aurora Villa:
Wine, beer and water was available alongside appetizers whizzing by on carried silver trays. It took all of my will not to just follow them into the kitchen, or wait directly outside of the kitchen door so I could pounce on each fresh tray.
Hollywood Blonde Beer. Even better with lime.
The back patio offered spectacular views of Los Angeles, stretching all of the way to the Pacific:
As much as I’d like to stick around and admire the views, it’s time for the salon performance.
Piano in the Salon
Our program featured Margaret Batjer on the violin, performing Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 3 in G major, Op. 30 in three movements, and Brahms Violin Sonata in D minor, Op 108 with four movements.
After the lovely music, it was time to gather to the library for the buffet set up by The Spot Gourmet.
My favorites included sauerbraten, roasted potatoes, baby carrots, rustic breads and the black forest chocolate cookie (with gooey cherries in the center!). My lovely assistant (AKA Mom) loved the salmon and cabbage rolls with sauerkraut.
We sat among German-born, the Chamber Music enthusiasts and patrons of the Arts, and the wife of the German Consul General. Our conversation took an interesting turn with Helena, an 80-something year old tapestry artist who had words of female empowerment and encouragement for both my mother and I. Her doting younger husband stood by her all evening, a human shield as Helena shuffled along with her walker. They were the cherry on top of an already enchanting evening.
Austria à la carte
Official Description: Karin Proidl, Consul General of Austria, hosts an evening at the stately Austrian residence in Brentwood that illuminates the dazzling cultural and musical vibrancy of Vienna with a lively performance by LACO Principals Josefina Vergara, violin II, and Nico Abondolo, bass, who are also husband and wife. Vienna, with its delightful sidewalk cafes, pastry shops, prized beers and white wines and compelling art, music and architecture, is also celebrated as a haven for gourmands with the emergence of a sophisticated culinary movement, embracing fresh, seasonal and local produce.
The Austria a la carte evening was definitely more intimate, as it took place in proper residence, owned by the Austrian government to house their Consulate Generals for something around forty years now.
Consul General of Austria in Los Angeles Karin Priodl and LACO a la carte Chair Mahnaz Newman
Photo Credit: Jamie Pham | via Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations
Representing her country with a welcoming grace and an air of strength every woman in position of power ought to possess was Austrian Consul General Karin Priodl. My feminist senses were tingling just knowing this single, childfree woman was our hostess of the evening. I had to fight the urge to hug her and cry, “ROCK ON, SISTER! SOLIDARITY!” Refinement is an acquired skill for me.
The evening started with h’orderves, wine and conversation.
I’m probably the best frenemy of an event server; I’m always happy to see them, but I want them to put a halt to their procession through the crowd so I can get in a quality photograph. Unfortunately, most of my photos were taken as other hungry attendees descended on these quick bites.
Soon it was time to gather in the salon and enjoy the set by husband and wife duo: Josefina Vergara, violin II, and Nico Abondolo, bass. It goes without saying that they are dizzyingly talented, but Nico also charmed us with his wit and commentary throughout the performance.
LACO Principal Violin II Josefina Vergara and Principal Bass Nico Abondolo in performance
Photo Credit: Jamie Pham | via Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations
The program was broken into five sprightly pieces: GF Handel – Sonata VIII for violin in four movements; Francois Couperin – Troisieme Concert in A major from Concerts Royaux in five movements; JS Bach – Sonata for violin and Continuo in E minor, BWV 1023 in two movements; Bela Bartok – Selections from 44 Duos for violins, arranged by Nico himself; and Astor Piazzola – Five Tangos for violin and double bass.
All of that culture certainly whips up an appetite, so it was time to head over to the buffet and enjoy some Austrian food provided by The Spot Gourmet Catering.
Once again, Spot Gourmet knocks it out of the park with this authentic Austrian feast. As I was sitting among both Austrian-born and Austrian-descendants, I heard first-hand just what was spot-on. My favorites of the night include: pork loin with dijon, red cabbage salad, spaetzle with garnet yam and chocolate cake with kirsch.
For me, the highlight of these event is not the food (GASP!) nor the wonderful music, but the lovely people I sat with at each meal and got to know over food. Music and food: uniting foreign relations since the dawn of civilization. Well played, LACO. Well played.
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra