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Last Night in L.A.: eighth blackbird

The County Museum of Art didn’t cancel all serious music:  just the Monday Evening Concerts.  Under new management, the music program now offers occasional concerts on any night but Monday.  They try to relate the bookings and programming to the art.  Thanks to one other difference — being willing to do some PR — a good crowd came to LACMA to see eighth blackbird.  The ostensible tie-in to the art was with the smashing special exhibition on Magritte and art he influenced.  (Unfortunately the museum is closed on Wednesdays so that for the attendees the art was limited to a distracting slide show behind the musicians.) 

The six musicians of eighth blackbird gave us a well-chosen program in which some of the works did resonate with the attitudes and approaches of the exhibit.  My favorite was by Stephen Hartke, USC professor and composer of this summer’s The Greater Good at Glimmerglass.  The program opened with his The Horse with the Lavender Eye (1997).  This is a work of four disparate movements for violin, clarinet, and piano.  Magritte might well have appreciated the music inspired by history and art images.  The first movement, “Music of the Left” has all three played only by the left hands.  (The clarinetist was allowed to use his right hand to support the instrument, but the violinist had to perform his pizzicati on the neck of the violin.)  The finale, “Cancel My Rhumba Lesson” was inspired by an R. Crumb comic.

Ending the program was Joseph Schwantner’s Rhiannon’s Blackbirds (2006), written for the group and receiving its West Coast premiere.  In justaposition of title and performer this was another nice gesture to the exhibition.  It’s a very good work.  On first listening, this work seemed a story of constant evolution, with shifts of color, rhythm, harmony, volume, texture.  The program notes describe use of a palindrome as a key element, but I was too occupied in the moment to get any sense of shape.

The three works in between were by Gordon Fitzell, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, and Gordon Beeferman.  Fitzell’s Violence (2001) was, to me, a non-violent meditation.  (A sample is available here.)  The Sanchez-Gutierrez Luciernagas [Fireflies] (1998) was a mood portrait of flickering lights exemplifying souls of the murdered residents from a now-deserted Salvadorian village.  Beeferman’s Reliquary (2005) was inspired by the composer’s going through his grandmother’s attic.  This was another work written for eighth blackbird and being given its West Coast premiere.

The group has been selected to serve as music director of the Ojai Festival in two years, and I’m looking forward to hearing their influence on the programs.  They have taste as well as talent.