Music in Historic Places

Hosted by

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

I don't listen to a lot of classical music, but some. I'm glad it's still available on the radio here. In many parts of the country, there's none.

Some days, a little Beethoven's 9th or Mozart is the perfect diversion for driving in LA traffic.

When I go out to hear a concert, I appreciate that the options in LA include listening to music in old homes. In small salons, like the composers may have intended.

It's an authentic throwback to earlier times, before Los Angeles had the Disney Hall, or even the Hollywood Bowl.

When Los Angeles was just stumbling into its future as a major city, shedding its image as a dusty pueblo, orchestra and chamber music were elite pleasures.

The best places to enjoy it were in the mansions of the arts patrons of the day.

I'd guess an invitation to the G. Allan Hancock mansion ... at the corner of Wilshire and Vermont … was a very desirable ticket in the 1920's.

Enough prominent musicians performed in the Hancock music room that the room and its furnishings are still preserved on the campus at USC.

Last year I attended a performance in the Pacific Serenades series in the pool house of a Fremont Place mansion. It was a home I knew the back story on, since it had briefly been occupied by Hollywood legend Mary Pickford and her mother.

That was before Mary married Douglas Fairbanks and they built Picfair in Beverly Hills – and created United Artists. And before Fremont Place was gated off and turned into a private enclave across Wilshire from Hancock Park.

There's that name again. Yes, the same Hancock family.

The Da Camera Society at Mount St. Mary's College has a longstanding series with the perfect name to attract me -- Chamber Music in Historic Places.

The venue where I most look forward to hearing a concert is actually part of UCLA. It's on West Adams, inside an urban treasure donated to the university in 1926.

The William Andrews Clark Memorial Library was built by Clark's son to hold his collection of books and manuscripts. It's an impressive collection, especially of works on Oscar Wilde and John Dryden.

Clark's first love was music, and UCLA opens the library to a short season of concerts every year that sells out via lottery.

Clark was the first benefactor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. So when I toured his library last week I could easily imagine slipping back in time.

The drawing room where the recitals are held opens onto beautifully kept grounds, more acres of greenery than you usually find outside of Beverly Hills or Bel-Air.

Surrounded by the period homes of West Adams, it feels like the right place to close my eyes and commune with the earlier city. Imagine that I'm listening to the best musicians of the day, sitting a few feet in front of me.

In an LA before freeways and homicidal street gangs.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.