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The last concert of the season for the Phil closed with roars of applause and approval for Esa-Pekka Salonen‘s Piano Concerto, given its premiere last year by the New York Philharmonic. Listening to the broadcast of that performance was only a weak preparation for what we heard and felt yesterday. It seemed as if the whole audience was, like me, swept up and carried away by the music. And what a performance it was! The concert was recorded by DG, for which we are grateful, and I’ll download it on release. Yefim Bronfman was the soloist, as he has been in all prior performances. The orchestra was at their best.

In this work Salonen’s compositional styles seem to have taken a new step in evolution. Who would have imagined that this seemingly-cool, calm, analytical Finn would become such an emotional composer? The music is very busy, with many lines and rhythms, but it has an emotional sweep and surge that I haven’t heard in earlier music. “Wing on Wing” for instance doesn’t really make you feel you’re on the boat with its spinnaker and mainsail extended into the wind; it’s a nice picture, but you aren’t caught up by it. The music of the concerto catches you, gives you no time to think, and moves you into its world. I don’t know what to call the style. “Neo-romantic” isn’t quite right. “Neo-emotional” isn’t right. Maybe “contemporary” will just have to do for a while. The music seems right and very much for today. Salonen wrote some really excellent program notes.

The rest of the program ending with the concerto comprised to pieces of today looking back at yesterday. The concert began with the West Coast premiere of Colin Matthews‘ orchestration (and adaptation) of four Debussy preludes for piano; this was followed by a Matthews “Postlude” in which he tried to create a sound portrait of Debussy. This was a decent job of orchestration, except for the fact that his reinterpretation of “The Girl with Flaxen Hair” was too different from my memory, and I didn’t like that change.

Then the orchestra, the Master Chorale and four soloists gave the world premiere of Steven Stucky‘s orchestration of “Les noces”. I thought it was interesting, but not wholly successful in its result. Stucky’s program notes state that he was careful not to try to create a new sound as Stravinsky might have imagined. Perhaps he was too respectful to have the result more than “interesting”. The Stucky orchestration lets you hear the internals of the work more easily than is the case with the density of the four pianos in Stravinsky’s definitive fifth version of the work, but in performance I missed the verve and spark of that version. Perhaps I would have liked the result more if Stucky had gone back to an earlier Stravinsky idea of pitting two string quartets, one playing only pizzicato. Stucky’s notes say that the idea came from Salonen, looking for a work to share a program with “Rite of Spring”. That might have worked out differently for me.

Thursday is the start of the Ojai Music Festival. Prior to the concert there will be a special gathering of bloggers, sponsored by the Festival, and Alan Rich will be honored and welcomed into the blogging world. Now that my schedule is back to enabling me to write about my hobby, I’ll be there.

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The music year in Los Angeles is getting off to a good start with an exciting mini-festival by the L.A. Phil, led by David Robertson.  What’s even nicer is that the Phil has given Sequenza21 readers a chance to win two tickets to next Friday’s concert, January 11, the program that appropriately includes “Sequenza X”.  The contest ends tomorrow night, so enter now!

First, let me tantalize you just a little with some details of the series.  Next week there will be the premiere of a new Michael Gordon work with Bill Morrison, “Dystopia”, with the Boulez “Explosante-Fixe” as the prelude.  The series opens with Copland’s “The City” with film; the Varese “Ameriques” is on the program with works by Zappa and Crumb.  The second program, which you readers have a chance to win tickets, opens with the Berio, followed by the Ives “Central Park”, and then works by Feldman, Benjamin and Zimmermann.  There are two concerts, by visiting groups, of city songs and of electronic music.  The festival includes three films with discussions at ArcLight (“Metropolis”, “Taxi Driver”, and “A Clockwork Orange”).  And there will be a seminar.  Click this link to read the program. 

And do enter to win the tickets to the concert at WDCH on Friday, January 11.  Just follow this link.

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Our revivified Monday Evening Concerts opened its second season of its new life last night.  This was an evening of MEC as we had been hoping for.  The program gave us music we wanted:  stimulating and sometimes challenging music; some new composers and new music, along with some to link to earlier times; music performed by very talented musicians; music in a hall with good sound; music to make us feel glad we had come.  And almost 300 of us came out Zipper Hall at Colburn School to hear and enjoy.

The new and most challenging music was in the first half of the concert, with the first performances in Los Angeles of music by Horatio Radulescu with two works, one of which was a U.S. premiere and one a West Coast premiere.  His music seems to attract some of the least comprehensible writing I’ve tried to read in quite a while; his compositions seem to attract doctoral students writing to show off to other doctoral students, as demonstrated by the fifth paragraph in the site giving his bio.  Even an expert communicator like Paul Griffiths had his program notes get a little gnarly about Radulescu.  I thought I understood what Griffiths wrote, but I didn’t hear what he described about “Agnus Dei” (1991) for two violas, so I decided to just relax and drift with the music.  That was probably a good decision, for the second Radulescu work, “Das Andere” (1984), was enormously difficult to understand and probably even more difficult for the solo violist to play.  I didn’t understand the work at all, but I was dazzled by the sheer technique required, a non-stop combination of harmonics on the top two strings and low arpeggios on the low strings, interchanging and then mixing.  Weird and wonderful.  “Primitive Force”, indeed.  Vincent Royer was the outstanding performer.

Separating the two Radulescu works, and giving Royer a bit of a break, was Stravinsky’s “In Memoriam Dylan Thomas” which had its 1954 premiere in a Monday Evening Concert.  William Kraft led Jonathan Mack, the Calder Quartet and four trombones (two from the Phil) in a lovely performance.  In the context of last night’s program, Stravinsky’s first fully serial work sounded like an established, safe, unthreatening classic.

And then, Zenakis.  The second half was two works by Iannis Xenakis.  First, Steven Schick came up from San Diego to perform “Rebonds” (1989), and Schick made work for drums and woodblock a work of great musicality.  This music wasn’t “primitive” at all.  Then the program actually topped that performance, with a breath-taking performance of “Eonta” (1963-1964) for piano, two trumpets and three trombones.  Eric Huebner returned to L.A. for the knuckle-busting piano part, so brilliant that you almost (not quite) shut out the sound from the five brass players to listen to that astounding piano.  It was good to have Rand Steiger with us again to conduct and keep the pieces together.

Justin Urcis as managing director of the new Monday Evening Concerts should feel awfully good today.  As Mark Swed wrote last year, Justin has made this a rousing success, which is not to denigrate the contributions of many others.

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It’s a pretty short list when you try to name the persons who have really affected and changed musical life in Los Angeles.  There are many who brought fame to L.A., and there are several who became famous through Los Angeles.  But fame is much easier than impact and change.  Bill Kraft is one of that short list.  He was a member of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 26 years, 18 of which were as Principal Timpanist.  As conductors and administrators worked with the orchestra to make it a more stellar ensemble and to bring vitality to contemporary music, Bill Kraft was a leader from within the orchestra.  He was founder and director of the Phil’s New Music Group, instrumental in getting that started and recognized.  He was the Phil’s composer in residence for four years.  He was a soloist.  He was a performer.  He was a director.  He was a teacher.  He was and is a composer.

Last night Southwest Chamber Music opened their series with the first concert devoted to the music of William Kraft.  They had initially programmed seven (7) of Kraft’s “Encounters”, but found that rearranging percussion for each piece (with one exception) took a little too much time.  As a result, their plan for two “Encounters” concerts now looks like at least three, stretching into next season.  I’m one of the many fans of Kraft, so as far as I’m concerned, the more concerts the better.

The concert comprised “Encounters” from the late 1960s and the 1970s.  This period includes the only “Encounter” that lacks percussion; interestingly, it may have been the first “Encounter” written.  Encounters I: Soliloquy (1975) is for percussion with tape.  While Bill writes for percussion, he puts tuned percussion at the center of so many of his works.  Often the instruments are the timpani, but in Encounters I (and through much of the evening) the major instrument was the vibraphone.  The work was done on commission for a performer who wanted a work to take on travel appearances; the vibraphone was selected because Kraft was able to work with a full range of techniques to color and shape the tones.  Ricardo Gallardo, leader of the percussion group “Tambuco“, was soloist and did a lovely job with a work that seems to require a person with three arms to handle the bows and the mallets. 

Encounters II (1966) is for solo tuba.  It was composed for and with the great tubaist Roger Bobo, for so many years a vital part of the Phil as well as soloist and recording artist.  Bobo and Kraft wrote a work showing off the musical range of the instrument and changing its sound color through a variety of techniques, including singing while playing.  The soloist was Zach Collins, who will receive his doctorate in tuba from USC this December.  [Yes, I know that the degree is actually in music performance; I enjoy thinking of someone with a tuba doctorate.]

Encounters III: Duel for Trumpet and Percussion (1972) had trumpeter Thomas Stevens as commissioner and collaborator, and it was performed well last night by Tony EllisLynn Vartan, the percussionist of Southwest Chamber, was the rival, and victor, in the contest.  Kraft spoke to the audience about his tendency to write music in which percussion wins, and he related how after one performance of this piece the trumpeter slowly left stage with his final diminuendo to return to stage waving a white handkerchief. 

After intermission they presented Encounters VII:  Blessed Are The Peacemakers: For They Shall Be Called the Children of God (1978) for speaker and two percussionists.  Miguel Gonzalez of “Tambuco” joined Vartan in this attractive work that emphasizes the ability of percussion to make melody.  The narrative elements, fortunately short, include quotations from religious texts and from secular poetry.  The conclusion of the concert was Encounters VI: Concertino for Roto Toms and Percussion Quartet (1976).  Vartan was joined by the “Tambuco” quartet in a good performance.  It’s the only work I’ve ever heard with eight (8) bows getting notes from the vibraphone simultaneously.  It’s a rare sound.

It was almost a sell-out at Zipper Hall last night, an audience of close to 300.  We stood and applauded to bring Bill Kraft out again and again.  I think the audience was as pleased as the performers and the composer.

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In this final piece on most prominent of the organizations that do noticeable programming of contemporary or near-contemporary music, I’ll deal with a variety of activities around the city. 

Perhaps the most consistently interesting programming in Los Angeles is put together by Jacaranda.  As implied by their subhead, “music on the edge of Santa Monica”, their programs do much more than give service to the idea that music is actually written and worthy today.  (Yes, their performances are held within walking distance of the ocean.)  This season they begin the first of two seasons focusing on the music of Olivier Messiaen, commemorating the centary of his birth in 1908.  The first of the Jacaranda concerts, in two weeks, will include the performance of works by William Bolcom and Joan Tower that fairly directly invoke Messiaen, plus works by Elliott Carter and Steve Reich that offer indirect associations.  Read their brochure.  Season tickets for eight great programs are only $190.

I don’t subscribe to the Los Angeles Master Chorale because I can only take a little religious music in secular concerts without becoming tone deaf, and this makes half of the LAMC’s concerts pretty unappealing to me.  But, oh, that other half! Their November concert includes the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in the premiere of Louis Andriessen’s The City of Dis plus God Protect Us From War by the Estonian Veljo Tormis whose work is new to me.  The April concert programs Gorecki’s Five Marian Songs.  The early May concert is entirely contmporary, with works by Gorecki, Morten Lauridsen, Salonen, Stucky, Judith Weir, Eric Whitacre, and the premiere of a work by David O.  The mid-May concert of opera music includes the premiere of a choral concert suite from The Grapes of Wrath by Ricky Ian Gordon.  Even the Christmas concert comprises music and arrangements by contemporary composers.

The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra includes a contemporary work in almost half of their programs, and they are active in promoting commissions of new music in a program enabling small donors to participate in commissions.  It’s a model of a program.  Pacific Serenades, a chamber group, seems to include the premiere of a new work in each of their concerts in a season, giving each program in three venues:  one in Westwood, one in Pasadena, and one in a private home; season tickets are approximately $25 a concert.  Their concerts seem to use the contemporary work as the spread in a sandwich between works of 18th and 19th century composers, which is a little more conventional than I like.  But their list of premieres includes composers whose music I admire, and their site includes clips of several of the works.

REDCAT, the CalArts output in Walt Disney Concert Hall, provides an active music program edging to the avant garde.  The major concert this fall will be in less than a week with California EAR Ensemble performing Andriessen’s Dubbelspoor plus works by Liza Lim, Franco Donatoni, and Raphaele Biston, whose work is new enough to avoid references to him in Google.  The music program for the fall and winter is pretty adventurous, and it’s fun.  CalArts also sends out regular emails of events at their campus in Valencia.

UCLALive, which has a great program of performances for theatre and dance, serving as the West Coast equivalent to BAM, comes close to ignoring contemporary music except for a few rare performers who have gained name recognition and whose music might have been described favorably in the New York Times (e.g., Kronos, Bang on a Can).  The music programming is no more adventurous than the attitudes and positions of the speakers they bring in.

The Thornton School of Music at USC has a great program for the student audience, mostly by student performers.  The calendar of events includes some programs that would really be worth going to.  Noteworthy this fall is their Contemporary Music Ensemble, conducted by Donald Crockett, performing Stephen Hartke’s Sons of Noah.

Too many events, too little money and time!

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The L.A. Philharmonic’s New Music Group opened its season last night with a concert of three works by Kaija Saariaho, all written in the early 90s.  This concert was to have provided a follow-up program to a major new Saariaho work, la Passion de Simone, on the philosophy and death of Simone Weil, which was premiered this summer in Vienna.  But (as reported by Mark Swed) Peter Sellars, who staged the premiere, convinced the Phil not to do a mere concert version as planned, but to produce the semi-staged version of Vienna, with dance and lighting; so the Passion was postponed until next season when all of the right people (dancer and lighting designer) are available.

The major work of the evening, and a major one it is, was Saariaho’s violin concerto, named Graal theatre (1994/1997), in its second version for violin with chamber orchestra.  Both versions are available on recordings.   The version for violin and full orchestra was written for Gidon Kremer and premiered in the Proms of 1995 with Kremer and the BBC Symphony conducted by Salonen; the recording also includes Saariaho works performed by Dawn Upshaw and by the cellist Ansi Karttunen, so it has its own great program.  John Storgards premiered the version for violin and chamber orchestra with the Avanti Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hannu Lintu; its recording includes two other Saariaho chamber works performed by Avanti.

The title of the work comes from a series of medieval poetry, updated by Florence Delay and Jacques Roubaud, who also provided the source idea for what became the libretto for l’amour de loin.  The idea used by Saariaho for this concerto was the co-existance of two systems of belief and actions:  the spiritual chivalry represented by the Grail; and the profane and physical approach.  The concerto has two movements, Delicato and Impetuoso, representing the dichotomy.  In last night’s performance, Jennifer Koh was soloist, and she was very impressive overall.  To me, Koh’s strengths suited the first movement’s feeling better than the second, and I didn’t hear enough change of feeling between the two to be fully satisfied, but this work is quite demanding and difficult and when Koh has the work so in hand that she is free from the score, she may be better able to put more fire into the second movement.

With Salonen in the audience, the 18 Phil musicians (5 strings, 2 percussion, piano, harp, and 9 winds) were conducted by our new Assistant Conductor, the 21-year-old Lionel Bringuier.  He also conducted the work that served as a prelude to the concerto, Piccola musica notturna (1954) by Luigi Dallapiccola.  This perfect introduction to the Saariaho is a charming work for eight musicians (3 woods, 3 strings, harp, celesta) evoking the sounds of an enchanted night. 

The first half of the program comprised two works for solo instrument plus electronics, each supplemented by video art reflecting the feelings of that work.  The video artist was Jean-Baptiste Barriere.  I first saw his work in his conception and creation of representations of Saariaho’s music in his CD set Prisma which contains two of the works performed last night.  First was the evocative work Six Japanese Gardens (1993-1995) for percussion with electronics.  The visuals are not necessary to “see” the tone pictures Saariaho paints in simple, unbombastic percussion, made deeper by the electronic additions.  Steven Schick was the percussionist.  This was followed by NoaNoa (1992) for flute supplemented by electronics.  This work was named for a series of ten woodcuts of Tahiti by Paul Gauguin, made during his brief return to France; the drawings had been intended as examples of the illustrations he thought of for a wished-for book on his experiences in Tahiti.  Catherine Ransom Karoly was soloist and pulled off all of the technical challenges of the work, including vocalizations.  That Barriere’s video supplements seem so attuned to Saariaho’s music may be partially explained by the fact that they are married.

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Close to 300 of us traveled to Zipper Auditorium last night to hear Gloria Cheng open the new Piano Spheres season.  It was a great concert.  With the exception of the premiere of a new work, she selected pieces by some of the most unrelenting modernists; as she said from the stage, the names of the composers would make most potential audience members head for the hills, anywhere but to sit and listen.  She gave us pleasure and enjoyment.  No one in the audience gave up and left.  In fact, after the encore of a long, challenging program, I think most of the audience felt as I did: grateful to have heard this.

Gloria Cheng is a great communicator in her playing, an artist painting a picture in sound for us to hear.  She introduced most of the works from the stage, talking about what the piece communicated to her.  Berio’s “Sequenza IV” (1966), for example, seemed to be about a shy, somewhat insecure, uptight person who finally goes out into the world, has experiences and frustrations, and comes home, true to itself, but more colorful from the experiences.  Cheng’s performance of the work gave us a structure and an arc; the work was not merely about momentary sounds, but it evolved and grew.  Here’s a performance of Sequenza IV on YouTube; the technique is good.  Even allowing for the lack of resonance in the sound reproduction, which significantly limits the realization of the work, this performance seems quite removed from what we heard last night.  Cheng’s performance had breadth and depth.

Similarly to Cheng Elliot Carter’s “Intermittances” (2005, at the age of 97) was like meeting very interesting people at a cocktail party: an arguing couple, someone tipsy, etc.  She said that for her, performing Carter was “a gas”.  She made the work fun to hear.

Her performance of Messiaen’s “Canteyodjaya” (1949) viewed the work as a series of stained glass windows within the structure provided by the jagged Hindu rhythmic theme.  Yvonne Loriot apparently said that playing the work was “great fun”, and Cheng found this ability to enjoy the colors and communicate the enjoyment.  As if the Messiaen weren’t difficult enough to play, the concert ended with a performance of “Evryali” (1973) by Iannis Xenakis.  Cheng admitted that Xenakis was difficult to like, but she grew into the work after she was asked to perform it for a ballet group building a dance to the work (which is hard to imagine).  This was fierce music and must have been difficult to play.

The first half of the program opened with Helmut Lachenmann’s “Guero” (1969/1988) in which the pianist uses plastic credit cards along the surfaces of the keys themselves or of the tuning pegs.  (The original version was for fingernails.)  About the only notes with pitch are those from the resonance in the piano as the pedal is used.  She gave us a variety of sounds and of colors, making the work interesting.  The second half included one of Cage’s theatre works, “October 2, 2007 [Water Music]” (1952) and early Takemitsu, “Litany, in Memory of Michael Vyner” (1950, revised 1989) as respites for the fingers so exercised in the Messiaen and Xenakis works.

She gave the world premiere of a Piano Spheres commission, “Piano Sonata No. 1, ‘Arcata’ ” by Dante De Silva.  The three movements had strong rhythmic content (De Silva is a percussionist and guitarist as well as a pianist) and individual episodes of spark and color.  It was an enjoyable work by a composer making his first attempt at a major piano work.

Next Piano Spheres concert:  November 13 with Vicki Ray.

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Over and above its contributions in teaching the performing arts, The Colburn School gives Los Angeles a good, small concert hall, Zipper Concert Hall, just across the street from Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Zipper Hall is now performing home to three independent program series important to contemporary music in Los Angeles.  To get a little off-topic, of course Zipper is also home to the programming of Colburn School itself and is the primary Los Angeles home of the Calder Quartet, just ending a residency at Julliard and a co-founder of the Carlsbad Festival of alternative classical music, which begins down south tomorrow.

For us Angelenos, Monday Evening Concerts deserves pride of place and first mention.  MEC will provide four concerts in Zipper this season; tickets are only $25 ($10 for students).  The programs are interesting, exciting even.  The range of composers and of musical styles is stimulating.  But I am surprised that there is only a single work by a living American (Donald Crockett) plus works by Earl Kim and Ralph Shapey (and Stravinsky).  In an interesting supplement to the series, each of the concerts on Monday will be preceded on Sunday morning by coffee, pastries, and a film having some tie to the program.  The Sunday mornings will be in the media lounge of the Goethe Institute; sehr gemutlich.  Free to subscribers!  MEC’s new web site conveys that they are now an established program; the site even includes an audio preview of the series.  (In something almost unique for Los Angeles the site even gives the public transportation lines to get to the concerts or the films.)  I look forward to the time when the site includes the programming history of this important series. 

Piano Spheres is a favorite of mine.  The season opens in only ten days with Gloria Cheng performing a challenging program that includes the premiere of a new work by Dante De Silva plus Berio’s “Sequenza IV” plus Cage, Takemitsu, Xenakis, Lachenmann, Carter and Messiaen.  What a range, and with lesser art the program would be a hodgepodge rather than something exciting.  And that’s just Gloria, so look at the entire season with Vicki Ray, Susan Svrcek, Mark Robson, and Ursula Oppens as this season’s guest.  The cost is $25 a ticket, $20 on subscription.  Buy now.

Southwest Chamber Music has a Pasadena home (with a winter season in the auditorium of the Norton Simon Museum and a summer season at the Huntington), but their winter season has dual performances at Zipper Concert Hall.  Southwest has produced an excellent “Composer Portrait” series of 12 CDs, plus four CDs in their project to perform and record all of the chamber music of Carlos Chavez.  This season, Southwest’s 20th, will have two programs of performances of William Kraft’s complete “Encounters” series, including the premiere performance of “Encounter XIV, a new commission.  The performances will be recorded and released next year in commemoration of Kraft’s 85th birthday.  The internet confirms my recollection that two (at least) of the “Encounters” were written for a full orchestra, so I’m unsure of whether or not these will be included, or will be performed in alternate versions.  I like most of the programming of the Southwest performances.  Scroll down the list of programs and see whether or not you agree.  Will the two Brandenburgs work with the Cage, for instance?

In the final post in this series, I’ll mention the contemporary music offered this coming season in the Jacaranda series, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Pacific Serenades, and summarize some events in other venues.

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During the summer the music programming stays pretty much with the established and conventional, if not with the outright light and popular.  I missed about the only performance of contemporary music at the Bowl, and the programming of the concerts by the lawn of the Huntington Gardens by the Southwest Chamber musicians was much more traditional than usual so that the one real treat was Elissa Johnston singing the Berio “Folk Songs” as part of a delightful program of Debussy supplemented by Lou Harrison and the Berio songs.  But now we’re ready to have more music of today.

Arranging our calendars for contemporary music always begins with the Phil, which is appropriate since it was those long-ago concerts conducted by Mehta in which he cajoled us in the audience to really try to hear those sounds of Berio and Crumb and Boulez and Messiaen (not to mention Schoenberg, Webern and Berg).  With my wife and me, those words from the conductor took root. 

The major series in this season’s L.A. Philharmonic programs is a Sibelius cycle, conducted by Salonen, in commemoration of his death 50 years ago (or is it for the 80th year of regret at his silence).  That series will include the seven symphonies in five programs, four by orchestra and one by chamber strings, plus an additional program of Salonen conducting the Sibelius Institute youth orchestra), beginning October 12 and ending October 26.  Supplementing the Sibelius will be three new or recent works:  another revival of Salonen’s “Wing on Wing”; a premiere of a new work by Steven Stucky, “Radical Light”; and John Estacio’s orchestration of “Seven Songs by Sibelius” (2006), sung by Ben Heppner.  The programs will be taken by Salonen and the orchestra to London and Paris in November.  The chamber concert will combine the Sibelius String Quartet with Carl Nielsen’s idiosyncratic “Serenata in Vano” (1914) for clarinet, bassoon, horn, cello, and double bass; and with the string quartet of Grieg and Aulis Sallinen‘s third quartet (1969).

The second major series of the season is in January, a series named “Concrete Frequency” to explore the intersections and interactions of contemporary music and contemporary city life.  David Robertson will be conductor/curator of the series, consisting of three subscription programs, plus a new music series program, plus symposia, films, and an evening devoted to urban-inspired music, hip-hop dance, and graffitti art (yes, in Walt Disney Concert Hall).  The program for the Green Umbrella (new music) concert isn’t yet announced, but the programs for the three orchestra concerts are a delight, ranging from Zappa, Crumb, Varese, and Copland in the first program; to Berio (Sequenza X), FeldmanBenjamin, Zimmermann and Ives in the second program; to the premiere of a new work by Michael Gordon and Bill Morrison, preceded by the Boulez “explosante fixe” (I think the version of 1991-1993).  January 4 through January 15 would be a good time to travel to Los Angeles and experience the Phil in Disney.

Other highlights of the Phil’s season include the performance (and recording) of Salonen’s “Piano Concerto” in a program with the premiere of Stucky’s arrangement of “Les Noces”; the premiere of Knussen’s “Cello Concerto”; Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing Messiaen’s “Oiseaux exotiques”; Dudamel conducting Salonen’s “Insomnia”; the Britten “War Requiem”; and the Strauss “Metamorphosen” and Berio’s orchestration of Bach’s “Contrapuntus XIX” in the opening concert.

And then we have the five programs of the Green Umbrella series of new music.  There will be an evening with focus on Kaija Saariaho, plus Dallapiccola.  There will be an evening to focus on Steven Stucky, including two West Coast premieres, plus the West Coast premieres of James Matheson’s “Songs of Desire, Love, and Loss” and Susan Botti’s “Jabberwocky”.  There will be an evening with Ursula Oppens as soloist performing the premiere of Harold Meltzer’s “Piano Concerto”, plus the premiere of a new work by Gabriela Frank, plus Carter’s “Dialogues”, plus Ginastera’s “Cantata para America Magica”.  There will be an evening of the music of a Los Angeles favorite, Thomas Ades, including a premiere that includes videos of Tal Rosner.  That’s in addition to the “Concrete Frequency” concert to be announced.  And then Terry Riley is coming to Disney for a performance on the Walt Disney Concert Hall organ, which will include a new work created for the occasion.  And the Kronos Quartet will appear with a concert including the Inuit singer, Tanya Tagaq, music by Sigur Ros and Xploding Plastix, and the premiere of a work by Derek Charke.  Get your tickets now!

In subsequent posts I’ll discuss the coming series of the Monday Evening Concerts, PianoSpheres, Jacaranda, Southwest Chamber, and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.  Contemporary music is clearly alive and growing in Los Angeles.

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The Sunday evening concert explored the range of voices of a piano with four works for piano and orchestra, almost four concertos.  Pierre-Laurent Aimard was pianist in three and merely a conductor in the fourth, Dialogues for Piano and Large Ensemble (2003) by Elliott Carter.  One result of the differences in attitude (or fashion?) regarding contemporary music between northeast and southwest is that we hear much less of Carter’s music than do you in the more variable climates, so that hearing the work seemed both old and new.  Tamara Stefanovich was given the chance to shine as soloist, and she did shine, at turns lyrical, provoking, forceful, quizzical as the kaleidescopic music flowed through her and her fingers into sound.  This was a delightful return from intermission.  Stefanovich has been impressive in this debut at Ojai, and she deserves some bookings at other venues.

The concert began with Aimard playing the Mozart 8th Concerto, conducting the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra from the keyboard.  Douglas Boyd then came on stage to conduct the Ligeti Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1986), and Aimard was brilliant.  I’ve spoken with many Ojai residents (who buy a majority of the tickets, after all), and the programming at the Ojai Festival is as adventurous as they get; for the rest of the year they won’t hear Ligeti (or Carter, for that matter).  Yet they come to these concerts with minds willing to listen.  The applause for the pianist and for the ensemble was deep and sincerely felt; even some near us who couldn’t quite decide whether or not they liked the work still could recognize that it was pretty impressive.  The concert ended in comfort for these uncertains, with Boyd conducting and Aimard playing the Ravel Concerto in G.  The slow middle movement seemed to be a lovely match for the Ojai ambience.

The Sunday morning concert was the “feel good” concert of this season, with the Nexus Percussion Ensemble giving us a world exposure.  Nexus captured us at the beginning with Steve Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood (1973), and over two hours later we still wanted more after a medley for xylophone and marimbas of “Bye Bye Blackbird” and “Bye Bye Blues”.  (Thank you, Bob Becker.)  Someone missed a good special-interest report by not covering the logistics problems associated with getting all of those Nexus instruments from point to point.  The three-dozen-or-so devices for bird calls would have been easy to pack, but all of those other instruments would be challenging.

This was a good series of concerts.  I wasn’t ready to leave.  Next year’s Ojai Festival will have David Robertson as music director and will feature a return of Dawn Upshaw.  Put June 5 – 8 on your calendars.  The next three months look pretty empty of contemporary music.  Why is it that groups and programmers think that summer is a time to stop new music?

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