Here’s Why a Neurosurgeon Might be at the Next Classical Concert You Go To

L.A. Chamber Orchestra’s “Music & the Mind” series is designed to help you appreciate Beethoven in a whole new way

People attend concerts for a variety of reasons—to be exposed to new music, to hear a favorite work—but rarely do you leave a performance with a better understanding of how humans process sound or the effect of improvisation on the brain.

Last night’s L.A. Chamber Orchestra concert was different. The show, which was part of the westside connections chamber series, featured UCSF scientist Dr. Charles Limb, who discussed deafness, basic neuroanatomy, and power of improvisation. His lecture was interspersed with pieces written by Ludwig van Beethoven and Bedrich Smetana, two composers whose mid-career hearing loss radically altered their output.

Concertmaster Margaret Bajer, who curated the series, says she hopes the programs will allow audience members to engage with music in new ways, allowing them to “go to concerts with a different perspective,” she says. “They’re not passive listeners, but they’re thinking about composers and their lives and historically what was going on. Last night, the [No. 13 in B-flat major, Op. 130] Cavatina that was played was much more powerful once everyone understood that when Beethoven wrote the piece, he could not hear a thing.”

It’s not too late to catch the second and third events in the series. The April 7 performance features UCLA’s own Dr. Susan Bookheimer and Dr. Robert Bilder, who are currently researching the brains of especially creative artists and scientists. On May 5, the program includes Dr. Linda Liau, director of the UCLA Brain Tumor Program, as well as music by Ravel and Schumann.

Bajer, who’s brother is a neurosurgeon, has always been fascinated by the science behind musical genius.

“When my older brother became a neurosurgeon he said to me, ‘You just can’t believe how beautiful the brain is. It’s like looking at a Van Gogh or a Monet.’ I remember thinking, ‘What an odd thing to say!’ [Laughs] But as I grew older, I started to understand that the brain is the center of everything that we are.”