Monday Evening Concerts are alive and well and being given in the great acoustics of Zipper Hall!  And if you don’t know why that’s important you’re reading the wrong blog.  Last night’s program was the most stimulating in four or five years, stimulating because it presented works by six talented composers, works that were fresh and alive and downright good music.

One of the fresh approaches in the new MEC is to have a musician serve as curator for the program, selecting composers to bring to our attention and determining the works to support the rationale.  In this first program Steven Stucky identified six composers in their early-to-middle careers, composers he felt we should know more about.  As Stucky pointed out, the awards received and notable appearances given by these six point out they are certainly not “unknown artists”; instead, they are composers we should know much more about.  Our local Xtet group provided the professional musicians for five of the six works (student violinists performed the sixth), and composer/conductor/professor Donald Crockett of USC and Xtet conducted four of the pieces.

The concert began with “Gran Turismo” (2005) by Andrew Norman, one of the twenty-year-olds, currently in Rome enjoying his Rome Prize.  His bio lists 12 other prizes for composition.  The work is a delightful perpetual motion for eight (8) violins.  It was inspired by some paintings by Italian Futurists, particularly those of Giacomo Balla showing racing cars, paintings attempting to show movement and speed.  A great start for a concert! 

James Matheson wrote the next work, “Falling” (2000) for violin, cello and piano.  Matheson did his graduate work (MFA, DMA) at Cornell, studying with Stucky and writing his doctoral thesis on Harbison’s music.  Also with awards aplenty (I’ll stop saying this), Matheson received a commission from Carnegie for Upshaw’s Perspectives series, a composition for soprano and chamber orchestra.  “Falling”, with a recurring motif of descending notes only to end in peaceful contemplation, acknowledges pre-modern musical forms while speaking in contemporary musical language.  I could find only one clip of another work by Matheson on the Amazon search, and another clip on iTunes.  I’d like to hear both his Carnegie commission and his work for the Albany Orchestra.

Sean Shepard, the other composer in his 20s, closed the first half with “Lumens” (2005) for violin, cello, flute/piccolo, clarinet, piano, and percussion, primarily tuned percussion.  His web site gives three clips, which sound exactly as I remembered the performance, plus notes on the composition.  I find it interesting that he would mention that some might object to the prettiness of the work, but that he persisted and was able to write something that might be so accessible.

A slightly older contingent had works in the second half of the concert, kicked off by “peal” (2000) by Philippe Bodin.  This is a work for violin, cello, flute, clarinet, and piano.  Bodin’s note describe the work as variations on a theme of a two-voice canon.  My ears don’t hear canon inversions, so I’ll accept his description.  His personal web site provides two good clips (and here) of the interesting music.

If applause can be trusted, the audience favorite was the fifth work, “Darkness Visible” (1998-1999) by Ana Lara.  Her work (for violin, viola, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, piano, percussion).  This is accessible, but moody — quite appealing to an audience hearing it for the first time.  Her web site gives eight mp3 clips, all of other works but bearing a compositional relationship to what we heard last night.  Amazon has only one composition of hers, on a multi-composer CD.  One of her compositions was performed by our local Long Beach, but her works deserve much more exposure.

The program closed similarly to its start, with a work about speed (or time), “Faster Still” (2004) by Brian Current.  The master, Alan Rich, quotes Stucky as describing the work:  “It’s as if Elliott Carter wrote only arpeggios.”  The work is for solo violin and piano, accompanied by a traditional string quartet.  The solo violin part is fast and furious (most often), and the piano part is probably somewhat challenging, although it’s not as showy.  Tempi change constantly.  No sound clips are available.  Only one of his works is listed by Amazon.  His web site, however, does provide some interesting mp3s, on two web pages.

Steven Stucky made his point:  these are composers we should hear more.

Saturday night we saw the L.A. Opera’s production of “Mahagonny“.  The reviews haven’t been good.  I liked it.  Very much.  I thought it was the best realization of Brecht’s theories of theatre that I’ve seen, and Audra McDonald was a great Jenny.  Conlon as conductor kept all touches of romanticism out of the playing.  Of all my musical enthusiasms from college, the one to last has been that for Kurt Weill’s music.  I think Brecht is seeming more and more like an historical artifact, but that music is still fresh and bracing.

Jerry Z

2 Responses to “Last Night in L.A.: New Voices”
  1. Paul H. Muller says:

    Those interested in the music of Steven Stucky might want to keep March 25th open:

    California Lutheran University New Music Festival

    The Chamber Music of Steven Stucky

    Sun, Mar 25, 2007 at 2:00pm
    Location: Samuelson Chapel – Map

    Event Description
    Composer Steven Stucky, recipient of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Music and Los Angeles Philharmonic Consulting Composer for New Music, will discuss and conduct his chamber music with CLU faculty musicians in this popular annual concert.

    Guest artist Gloria Cheng, widely recognized as one of today’s foremost interpreters of contemporary music, will perform Stucky’s solo piano music. Works include “Ad Parnassum,” “Meditation and Dance,” “Album Leaves,” “Three Little Variations for David,” “Partita-Pastorale” and “Cradle Songs.”

    Donations will be accepted.

  2. Alex Shapiro says:

    I, too, greatly enjoyed the concert and hope to hear more from all of these composers. I was especially impressed with Brian Current’s piece, not only because the music captivated me, but because he writes so damn well for strings and isn’t even a string player! Ha! It’s easy to assume that any decent composer should be able to write well for any instrument whether they play it or not; it’s part of our job description, after all. But of all the families, personally I think that using strings to their broadest and most idiomatic strength is most challenging.

    Jerry notes, “I find it interesting that [Sean Shepard] would mention that some might object to the prettiness of the work…” I not only found this program-note tidbit interesting, but downright disturbing. The composer was born in 1979. Not 1939. What continues to embarrass new generations of note alignment specialists against using any and all of those black dots in any and all permutations? Why would a composer living in 2007, much less one in their 20’s, deem it imperative to apologize for aspects of their music? Does the need to garner approval (and awards and grants) from the perceived academic establishment keep some composers’ psyches in an aesthetic choke-hold?