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!
The Los Angeles Master Chorale gave the Phil’s West Coast, Left Coast Festival the opening it deserved: a joyous statement, a vibrant concert, and a rousing end that left us wanting more and looking forward to our next event. Regrettably, last night’s concert wasn’t the opening, but the second event. The opening occurred Saturday night in a hodge-podge concert that just drained away. But more on that, later. It’s much more fun to talk about the good things.
Grant Gershon and the LAMC put together a program of four works by four composers (all alive, present, and introduced at the concert) that certainly brought out one of the festival’s themes: to portray the sheer number and variety of traditions and styles present in our music. The program gave us a local premiere to begin, then brought out two LAMC favorites, and concluded with a reprise of a delightful LAMC commission from 2007. The work new to us was “Savage Altars” (1992) by Ingram Marshall; his notes on the work are here.
Morten Lauridsenhas enriched our music, not merely through his own major compositions, but also through the other composers and colleagues he has mentored, challenged, and helped in composition at the USC Thornton School of Music. The program gave us his “Mid-Winter Songs” (1980, in this version with piano accompaniment). Lovely music. His notes are here.
The second half of the program moved forward a generation, to two composers still (barely) in their 30s: Eric Whitacreand David O. The LAMC performed a youthful work of Whitacre’s, “Cloudburst” (1992), written while he was still a music student at UNLV. Listening, and watching, the work is great fun. Here is the video of Whitacre conducted a group of mixed choruses and singers in Minnesota last April; I wish there were a video of last night’s performance.
Two years ago the Master Chorale had a great enabling them to commission works recognizing the diversity of Los Angeles, LA is the World. The hit of the year was David O’s “A Map of Los Angeles”, and this was given a reprise last night. The chorale gave some good program notes for each of the works in the concert, and I recommend reading those on David O’s work in particular (just scroll down through the notes). I hope that this music is not too location-specific, because this is so much fun to hear it should receive many performances. I think all of us in this full house left WDCH with a feeling of pleasure. A perfect opening.
But Saturday night’s official opening was a good program badly positioned and supported. Great ingredients: Terry Riley extemporizing on the WDCH organ, the Kronos Quartet in a new work, electronics/visual performances by Matmos, and a young composer in a performance of a new work inspired by the architecture of Disney Hall. The Phil’s web site has three interesting videos here. Perhaps for marketing purposes, perhaps to make this seem like a rock or hip-hop performance, the concert began at 9:30. It did bring in a younger audience (not more, just younger) than even the Green Umbrella series, but there were lots of late arrivals, which didn’t quite fit with the performance by Kronos of Thomas Newman‘s new work “It Got Dark” (2009); and while interesting, and worth really listening to, this didn’t seem quite right for a festival opening. But finding out what we were listening to was another of the problems: for some reason the program did not provide a summary listing of the works to be performed. You had to go through the text in the program to see what was named and then to try to match that with the sequence in the performance.
Terry Riley came on stage for some improvising in the second half of the program, and then, at midnight, went to the center console of the WDCH organ, which he has named “Hurricane Mama”. He gave a solo concert last season, and through his midnight practices has developed quite a feeling for the organ and its capabilities. He began playing. Probably many in the audience had no idea of what to expect or what to listen for. There were no announcements nor descriptions of what he was doing. And it was late. The audience began leaving. The concert concluded near 1:00 a.m., with probably a quarter of the audience left.
This coming Saturday is the official opening concert of the L.A. Phil’s exciting new festival, West Coast, Left Coast, but performances introducing the concept have now begun. REDCAT showed a “re-interpretation” of a noted performance piece with music by Morton Subotnickand choreography by Anna Halprin, and Jacaranda Music had another full audience for its concert last night as a prelude to the festival itself.
Parades & Changes, the Halprin-Subotnick performance collaboration from 1965 is coming to New York, and it provides a fascinating hour. The use of electronics in music has advanced so much in the past forty years, and can now be heard so often, that Subotnick’s music no longer sounded as radical or disturbing as it must have seemed then, but it held its own and contributed to the performance, which didn’t seem at all dated. When I got home, however, I did a search to find my LP of Subotnick’s Silver Apples of the Moon, once played so often. Gone. I don’t know when, or how. Surely the California pioneers in electronics in music should have had a place in a West Coast, Left Coast Festival!
The Jacaranda concert Saturday night was pure delight, and perfectly aligned with the festival’s theme. The program opened and closed with John Adams: Road Movies (1995) for violin and piano to open, and Shaker Loops (1978) for string sextet to close. The Denali Quartet brought in two friends to round out the performance of “Loops”, and this was a pleasure to listen to. The hit, however, was early Lou Harrison: Solstice (1949-1950) for celesta, tack piano, and flute, oboe, trumpet, two cellos and bass (including an instrument on its back, providing its strings as the target of mallets). This was Harrison attracted by Eastern sounds, but not yet comfortable with how much use to make of them. But it’s a lovely work. The fourth work on the program was by Ingram Marshall, whose work I don’t know. The concerts by the Master Chorale and by the Phil’s New Music Ensemble in a Green Umbrella concert will also give us works by Marshall, and I’ll wait until I’ve heard more before commenting.
The West Coast, Left Coast Festival looks on paper as if it can be more exciting then the last festival, Minimalist Jukebox, curated by Adams. Here’s the listing of events. And the LA Times has an excellent essay on Adams, here.
Today’s Philharmonic concert featured Luciano Berio and Franz Schubert, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. The concert opened with Berio’s commentary on the fragments left from Schubert’s ideas for his Tenth Symphony, Rendering (1989). Instead of developing a hybrid work “in the style of” Schubert, Berio supplemented the fragments with his own ideas, carefully orchestrated so that the listener could distinguish between real and restoration. We then ascended to the higher realms with Berio’s Folk Songs (1964, with the 1973 version for orchestral accompaniment). The singer? Dawn Upshaw. Dudamel closed the concert with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. The Dude is gaining control of the audience; in today’s concert he got everyone to be silent for over a minute after the last notes as he slowly lowered his arms. Last week’s concert, Verdi’s Requiem, was the only concert so far without a major work written after 1900.
(UNTITLED), an original film satire of New York’s avant-garde art scene, will appear in theaters across the nation this fall. By poking fun at the idiosyncrasies of 21st century Bohemia, (UNTITLED) introduces American audiences to some of the best that contemporary art has to offer, notably a score by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang, who merges the artistic expressions of the composer protagonist with his own musical voice.
(UNTITLED) revolves around melancholy composer Adrian (Adam Goldberg) and his whirlwind affair with a Chelsea gallerist (Marley Shelton), who unbeknownst to Adrian sells vacuous commercial works to high-paying corporate clients. The film explores the idea of true art and the question of integrity lost through commercialism – all with tongue in cheek. At the beginning, Adrian’s music comprises cliché contemporary classical music elements, such as crinkling paper and breaking glass. Once his perspective and emotions achieve depth and insight through his blossoming romance, his music becomes more profound.
John Clare had a chance to send questions to both David Lang and Adam Goldberg. In the second part (part 1 is here with David Lang), John Clare finds out more about (UNTITLED) from its star, Adam Goldberg.
1. Often with a joke, there is some seriousness or truth behind it. Is there some truth to this movie even though there is some fun being poked?
Well, actually upon my last viewing of it, the second time I watched it with an audience, albeit at LACMA–the perfect audience–it seemed to have a real weight to it. The film sort of takes a turn once the absurdity is established I think. For me the film really has always been about this righteous indignation, this sort of defensiveness of one’s position–whether as an artist or a audience member or a critic or an art dealer, in this case–that really is front for enormous insecurity. These characters are all wayward and tend to overcompensate with very stringent , often absurd, points of view.
2. There are some outrageous sounds and art. How does your taste run in real life – in both “new concert music” and “art”?
I definitely have always been obsessed with sound and strange sounds and repetition, but usually incorporated into something melodic or hypnotic in some way. I have for a long time been a fan of Steve Reich–whose work began with simple tape loops and phasing of found material, but eventually he applied this process to beautiful symphonic pieces. I have also been a fan of some conceptual art, but usually when it engages the viewer, interacts with him or her in some way or tells a story. I don’t like things that seem to aim merely to shock or to alienate. Basically if it moves me or I can relate to it in some way then, well, I like it.
3. David Lang is a Pulitzer Prize winner and incredibly gifted composer, but unfortunately not a household name – how was he chosen for the movie, and how was collaboration with Untitled?
I believe Jonathan, the director, knew David from music school. He had an interesting job, both to score the film and create the ‘sound’ pieces our little group performs–though in the end it was so bizarrely structured and arranged that we could often only barely perform to playback so much of the “music” we’re making we actually are making. David also served I think as a bit of a consultant to Jonathan when he was writing this, creating my character. I love David’s music and this score is quite beautiful I think.
4. What is the possibility of Untitled 2, or Untitled – the Showtime series?
5. There have been quite a few composers in pop culture these days, from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (Jason Segal) to “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium” (Natalie Portman’s piano/composer) and the likes of Paul McCartney & Billy Joel writing new classical music. Is composition a new cool as nerds (think Big Bang Theory) are?
Hmmm….I’ve never thought “Big Bang Theory.” Well, I remember years ago Elvis Costello put out a sort of classical record with the Brodsky Quartet that was pretty innovative. Conversely, Philip Glass many many years ago started I think to incorporate a sort of popular music element–singing an so forth–into his music. I think there’s always been some overlap. I saw a great piece that a childhood friend of my girlfriend’s put on. Michael Einziger from Incubus of all things. It was fantastic, sort of Reich meets Bernard Hermann. I think there’s something that feels for lack of a better word “legitimate” about working with classical elements. I know that some of the stuff musically I’ve done musically, with my project LANDy, that I’ve been most proud of incorporates some classical elements–arrangements of strings and that sort of thing. Albeit I’m usually humming the arrangements like a crazy person to the poor violinists.
Received a blurb from the LA Phil the other day, which in all caps proudly declares “LA PHIL LAUNCHES MICROSITE CELEBRATING INCOMING MUSIC DIRECTOR GUSTAVO DUDAMEL“ … Kaboom!… Here’s the relevant bit (my bolds):
On September 24, 2009, the LA Phil launched a microsite celebrating the arrival of incoming Music Director Gustavo Dudamel. Introducing audiences worldwide to Gustavo in new and engaging ways, the comprehensive microsite, located at http://www.laphil.com/gustavo, features videos such as Gustavo’s first rehearsal with the YOLA Expo Center Youth Orchestra, the LA Phil’s video tribute “Welcome Gustavo,” and the press conferences unveiling Gustavo’s inaugural season and appointment as 11th Music Director of the LA Phil. Visitors can also take a multimedia journey through Gustavo’s life with tiling photographs, video and biographical text. The latest Gustavo-related news and newly recorded audio and video content will be added to the microsite as Gustavo’s exciting inaugural season progresses.
The Gustavo microsite prominently features a brand-new interactive online game and iPhone application, Bravo Gustavo, designed by Hello Design to simulate the experience of conducting an orchestra. The Bravo Gustavo online game invites users to interact with Gustavo and the LA Phil performing Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique (music courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon). The Bravo Gustavo iPhone application adapts the mobile device into a conducting baton, utilizing the accelerometer to directly affect the overall tempo and note duration of the music – just like a real conductor.
Wow, conductor as new “my best friend forever”, and it seems like the only thing missing from the package is the action figure. I suppose if the classical world had been cool enough to do a “Bravo Herbert” or “Welcome Antal” back in the day, the crowds would never have left.