For the next few months, The City of Angels is going to be the epicenter of all things Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001). That’s because the exhibition “Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary” will be on view at the MOCA Pacific Design Center from November 6, 2010 — February 4, 2011. The exhibition explores Xenakis’ wide range of sketches, scores and drawings, not only musical but architectural and aesthetic as well. Not always simply notes on score paper, many of Xenakis’ sketches and drawings conjure up artistic visions, in ways perhaps only matched by John Cage’s documents of his own explorations. Defintely a must-see.
But there are also a couple must-hears, happening right this week, both absolutely free:
Saturday, 6 November at 6pm, in L.A. State Historic Park (1245 Spring Street) a recreation of Xenakis’ legendary Polytope de Persepolis will be performed. Adapted by German sound artist and Xenakis electronic music expert Daniel Teige, Persepolis L.A. will involve six listening stations with eight speakers each. Persepolis was originally commissioned by the then Shah of Iran and performed as the opening event of the controversial 1971 Shiraz Festival that took place in the middle of the ruins of the ancient Persian capital. This performance will encompass more than 70,000 square feet of performance area within the park’s 32-acres, and will feature the recently restored multi-track music composition and computer-generated visual choreography, complete with laser beams, fire, smoke, and searchlights. The event will open with Xenakis’ first electronic work, Diamorphoses (1957), as a “geological prelude”.
Then on Sunday, November 7 at 4pm, The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts presents an outdoor performance of the final version of Xenakis’s only opera, Oresteia. This West Coast premiere includes performances by baritone Paul Berkolds, an adult chorus, a children’s chorus, and a chamber ensemble. First-come seating is on the lawn for this highly charged, brutally colorful piece.
The quiet, quirky, extremely inventive Californian composer Art Jarvinen (b.1956) has died. Always one to go his own way and not chase the typical composers “path to glory”, Art was still a strong influence on a lot of younger southern Californian minds. Both David Ocker and Kyle Gann have a little personal appreciation and what little info we know about Art’s passing, something that came far too quickly.
Estonian composer Arvo Pärt turned 75 yesterday. His record label ECM Records is celebrating his three-quarters of a century with two new recordings.
Pärt’s 4th Symphony is a long-anticipated follow-up to his 3rd – which was written back in 1971! In the interim, the composer has moved from a modernist style to an idiosyncratic version of minimalism; one the composer calls the “tintinnabuli” style of composition. From bell-like resonances and slowly moving chant melodies, Pärt has crafted a personal compositional language of considerable appeal. And while this has included a number of stirring instrumental works, such as Tabula Rasa and Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, more recently Pärt has been known for his choral music. His return to symphonic form is thus an opportunity to explore his mature language in a different milieu.
Perhaps in part as an acknowledgement of the home of the orchestra commissioning the Fourth Symphony – the “City of Angels” – Pärt decided to use a text as a formative – if subliminal – device in his preparations of the piece: the Canon of the Guardian Angel. Thus, while this is certainly not merely a transcription of a vocal piece – it sounds idiomatic and well orchestrated – there is a certain chant-like quality which demonstrates the symphony’s affinity with the vocal music and chant texts that are Pärt’s constant companions.
The live recording is of the work’s premiere in Disney Hall in LA. Salonen and the LA Phil give a muscular rendition of the piece, emphasizing its emphatic gestures while still allowing for the symphony’s many reflective, meditative oases to have considerably lustrous resonance. And while one can certainly hear a palpable connection to Pärt’s chant-inspired tintinnabuli pieces, the symphony also allows for dissonant verticals and melodic sweep that recalls both Pärt’s own Third Symphony and the works of other 20th century symphonists, from Gorecki to Shostakovich.
Perhaps in order to clearly attest to the connection between text and symphony, the disc is balanced out with a fifteen-minute serving of fragments from one of his important choral works from the 1990s: Kanon Pokajanen. The composer has pointed out the relationship between the canon that was his reference point for the symphony and the texts upon which the latter choral work was based.
He says, “To my mind, the two works form a stylistic unity and belong together. I wanted to give the words an opportunity to choose their own sound. The result, which even caught me by surprise, was a piece wholly pervaded by this special Slavonic diction found only in church texts. It was the canon that clearly showed me how strongly choice of language preordains a work’s character.”
Kaljuste and the Estonian Chamber Choir are seasoned handlers of Pärt’s works, having made a number of recordings of his music. They do not disappoint here, providing a performance that juxtaposes the ethereal eternity found in the texts with an earthy and corporeally passionate rendering of the music.
In order to further fete Pärt, ECM also plans a lush reissue of their landmark 1984 recording, Tabula Rasa, complete with a generous accompanying book with newly commissioned essays about the composer.
Nico Muhly is set to appear at the Santa Monica Apple Store on the Third Street Promenade Wednesday, September 8th to mark two new releases from Decca. “A Good Understanding” will be released exclusively on iTunes on September 7, with physical copies available on September 21 alongside “I Drink the Air Before Me”.
Composer Nico Muhly
Muhly along with Los Angeles Master Chorale conductor Grant Gershon will take part in a Q&A session – where Muhly will demonstrate how he creates his compositions with GarageBand on his MacBook Pro. The talk will end with a performance by members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale featuring two works from “A Good Understanding” and two related works, “Like as the Hart” and “Wayfaring Stranger”.
John Clare spoke with Muhly about the works and event: mp3 file
Nico Muhly and Los Angeles Master Chorale conductor Grant Gershon appear at the Santa Monica Apple Store on Wednesday, September 8, 7:00 p.m.
Bonus – listen to the rest of the conversation as Muhly interviews Clare: mp3 file
Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon CD
True, Stravinsky’s Sacre du Printemps is a watershed work. It serves as many a classical listener’s jumping off point when first exploring Twentieth Century repertoire. But can a work, no matter how seminal, have too many recordings? Can it get programmed so often on concerts that it loses its zing?
I have several recordings of the piece myself, but I’d begun to wonder in the past couple years whether the Rite was in danger of being overexposed. And I’m not the only one…
Enter young conductor Gustavo Dudamel and his even younger colleagues from the Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Their version of the Rite is viscerally powerful, rhythmically muscular, and impressively wide in its dynamic range. After getting a bit burnt out by the piece and its attendant folklore, I’m refreshed by hearing Dudamel’s rendition.
In a clever programming touch, the Stravinsky is paired with Silvestre Revueltas’ La Noche de los Mayas. Originally a 1939 film score, a concert suite of the work was only fashioned some two decades after Revueltas’ death. Latin dance signatures and melodic inflections are offset by virtuosic percussion writing, including some cadenzas that help to make evident the musical kinship between Rite of Spring and La Noche de los Mayas.
The sociocultural resonances are obvious as well. It might seem gruesome to pair works based on their common interest in human sacrifice, but Rite restores the vitality and bite of early modernism’s interest in still-earlier primitivism.
We may have missed the first volleys of southern California’s MicroFest — concerts devoted to tunings other than our standard, boring old 12 steps to the octave — but there’s still plenty of time to get your octave-tweak on; events will be running all the way to the end of June. Composers represented include Cage, Harrison, Partch, Crumb, Lachenmann, Tenney, Alves, Corigliano, Gosfield, Haas, Ives, Wadle, Schweinitz, McIntosh, Kriege, etc. etc… Quite a constellation of stars. For all the details head over to their website.
But I wanted to draw your attention to the MicroFest concert happening this weekend, since it involves an old pal and S21 alum. On Saturday April 24, 7:00 PM at the Steinway Piano Gallery (314 N. Robertson Blvd., West Hollywood), pianist Aron Kallay with Grace Zhao will be giving a concert of music for “quartertuned+” pianos. In addition to pieces by Charles Ives, John Corigliano, Bill Alves, Georg Haas, Annie Gosfield and my internet friend “Down Under”, Kraig Grady, Kallay will be giving the premiere live performance of Jeff Harrington‘s monstrously difficult Prelude #3 for 19ET Piano. It’s taken a lot of years for someone to step up and take on one of Jeff’s preludes, many of which we’ve known and loved for years only through Jeff’s own MIDI realizations. It’s going to be fun, I’m telling you. You can hear part of the piece in this KPFK interview with Kallay.
Then on Sunday April 25th, back NYC -way, our long-time contributor Elodie Lauten is celebrating the 2-CD release of a whole passel of her piano music from the last 30 years, PIANO WORKS REVISITED(Unseen Worlds),with a performance at the Gershwin Hotel (4PM, 7 East 27 Street, $10). Elodie herself will perform the Variations on the Orange Cycle (cited by Chamber Music America as among the 100 best works of the 20th century), and some of the early piano tunes that featured on WNYC as early as 1981; also the Sonate Modale, released for the first time on these CDs. The Gershwin Hotel main lobby provides a beautiful grand piano and a colorful and elegant environment for this special venue, and there’ll be refreshments. So come on out and cheer the home team!
Head’s up on a couple things this coming week that caught my eye:
WPRB’s Marvin Rosen is doing a special edition of his Classical Discoveries radio show this Wednesday, Jan. 27th. From 5:30 until 11:00 AM EST. Titled “East Meets West“, the entire five-and-a-half hours will be devoted to works by Middle and Far Eastern Composers, as well as to works by Western composers inspired by these regions. A special treat in the 10-o’clock hour will be the world premiere broadcast of the Sonata for solo viola Op. 423 (1992) by Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000), performed by Christina Fong (from a brand-new OgreOgress release). Then from 11AM until 1PM, Marvin’s guest will be composer/improviser/percussionist Lukas Ligeti. A swell time all around, and as always no matter where you are your computer can bring you the broadcast live.
If you happen to be on the other coast that same day (Jan. 27th), you’re in for a treat if you head to the Pasadena Central Library (Donald R. Wright Auditorium, 285 E. Walnut St.) at 6PM PST, for a concert presented by Cellogrill (über-cellist Jessica Catron) and the Pasadena Creative Music Series. The concert opens with the world premiere of composer Cat Lamb’s Branches for just-intoned female choir assembled especially for this occasion. Next up, MISSINCINATTI follows with folk songs of land and sea; forgotten tales about fantastical crocodiles, maritime ghosts and work in the mines illuminated before your very eyes with the assistance of many special musical guests. And finally, the compositions of RATS can confound and delight like a musical retelling of The Wizard of Oz by Captain Beefheart. And all this for the princely sum of FREE.
…Is that it’s happening in California, and not spreading the wonderful work and word in some navel-gazing opposite coast (NYC, I’m talkin’ to youz!). But even those who are or might be L.A.-bound, what better place to be on a Monday night (January 11 2010, 8:00pm; Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School), than taking in this absolutely fine mix of the old and the new?:
California has always attracted innovators. Three composers from Los Angeles, Berkeley and San Diego confirm this is still the case. In a program showcasing the variety of activity in our own backyard, Michael Pisaro’s gently expansive The Collection is presented in a version for twenty players. Luciano Chessa’sVariazioni su un oggetto di scena and Louganis (with a video by Terry Berlier) create a poignant lyricism in his radical and theatrical works, including a tribute to Olympic diver Greg Louganis scored for piano and electric toothbrushes. Clint McCallum’s in a hall of mirrors waiting to die pushes a saxophonist to his physical limits, while the sax also enlivens two rarely-heard non-Californian 20th century classics: Anton Webern’s Quartet and Milton Babbitt’s All Set for jazz ensemble.
With Eliot Gattegno, saxophone; Eric Wubbels, piano; Benjamin Lulich, clarinet; David Fulmer, conductor and violin; David Borgo, saxophone; Scott Worthington, double bass; Brian Archinal, percussion; Ross Karre, percussion; Avi Bialo, trumpet; Ian Carroll, trombone; Luciano Chessa, piano.
Last night’s Green Umbrella concert was programmed as part of “West Coast, Left Coast”, and it certainly sounded as if almost all of the 1500-or-so of us had as much fun as I did. The program ended on a high with five selections from Frank Zappa‘s The Yellow Shark album (1992), conducted by John Adams, our festival curator (and conductor, and occasional composer, and friendly guide). You can read Adams’ comments made during rehearsals here (just read the second half of yesterday’s entry and then scroll down to the November 25 entry). The concert ended with a riotous (orgasmic?) performance of “G-Spot Tornado”, which was then repeated as an encore. Adams finally led the orchestra off stage, because very few of us in the audience were headed for the exits, instead staying and applauding and wanting more.
The Phil has had a long association with the music of Frank Zappa, going back to 1970 when Zubin Mehta was music director and Ernest Fleischmann had started his program of bringing contemporary music into the Phil’s repertoire and helping the Phil’s audience listen to the new. (Ernest and others had to cultivate the ground for many years before the current audience was built up; you in New York should not get too impatient.) As the program for last night states, that 1970 concert was “locally notorious”. Here are Zappa’s comments. Some uncredited and undated but contemporary comments are here if you scroll down to the heading “Hit It, Zubin”, and here is a funny article from a 1971 Playboy concerning the first Zappa concert. (Confession: Phil concerts have been my only exposure to the music of Frank Zappa.)
The concert opened with Fog Tropes (1981) by Ingram Marshall, an accessible work for six brass and taped sounds of fog horns and San Francisco in fog. Then Kronos Quartet with the astounding voice of David Barronperformed Ben Johnston‘s 1998 transcription of Harry Partch‘s 1943 U.S. Highball, originally written for adapted guitar, kithara and chromelodeon. Johnston worked hard enough to support Partch and his work, especially at the U of Illinois, that I trust his instincts in agreeing to make this work more performable by replacing the original instruments. This was a delightful performance, and David Barron’s unique pitch control and his acting skills made him a great narrator.
Sunday the Festival gave us two concerts. In the afternoon, the Phil and Gustavo Dudamel showed us that the powers had recorded the wrong concert when they taped the inaugural concert and John Adams‘ City Noir symphony. That first night gave us a good performance; Sunday (the fourth performance of the work) gave us an exciting performance of the absolutely best orchestral work yet written by John Adams. On Sunday, the “big band” and jazz elements had swing while still retaining drive. The work built into a great evening. The concert began with Dudamel conducting Esa-Pekka Salonen‘s pivotal L.A. Variations (1996). And then the strings, trombones, harps, and percussion (re-tuned as appropriate) with Marino Formenti on the piano in Lou Harrison‘s Piano Concerto (1983-1985). Darn! There should have been a recording of this performance. The second movement, “Stampede”, was thrilling in its breath-taking drive; we relished the change into the almost ethereal slow movement. The whole performance was great, for a work that should have a larger audience. We think of those Sunday afternoons after a concert when we saw Harrison at Betty Freeman’s musicales; these were the first performances by the Phil of this concerto.
And then Sunday evening the four pianists of PianoSpheres (Gloria Cheng, Vicki Ray, Mark Robson, Susan Svrcek) gave us “California Keyboard”, a survey of some of our music. The opening work was instructive. The spotlights shone on four toy pianos as the four pianists came on stage and bent down to the keyboards for John Cage‘s Music for Amplified Toy Pianos (1960). Initially there were some titters: the sounds were a bit odd and the sizes were humorous. But four pianists, focused on the music, brought the audience from humor into music appreciation, and the performance cast a spell. Mark Robson then played the oldest works: four of Henry Cowell‘s Miniatures (1914 to 1935), and we heard how original Cowell was, and how modern he could be.
But there was so much in the program. My own favorites included a concerto-like work for piano and electronics by Shaun Naidoo, Bad Times Coming (1996), played by Vicki Ray. I also really liked William Kraft‘s Requiescat (Let the bells mourn for us for we are remiss) (1976), commissioned by Ralph Grierson and premiered at the 1975 Ojai Festival. This was a lovely work for electric piano. And the concert closed with a beautiful work by Daniel Lentz, NightBreaker (1990) for four pianos. A great concert!