The big news out of Los Angeles this morning is that Gustavo Dudamel, the 26-year-old Venezuelan wunderkind, will replace Esa-Pekka Salonen when he leaves the LA Phil at the end of his term in 2009. Salonen plans to spend more of his time composing.
Archive for the “Los Angeles” Category
Apr 09 2007
Nov 27 2006
The International Society of Bassists wanted a new concerto for their favorite instrument, and they wanted orchestras to play the work rather than merely filing its name in the list of new works that they might think about some future year. With help of their members they formed a consortium of 15 orchestras to back the work, enabling each participating orchestra to list themselves as a co-commissioner, giving each a “premiere” (even if merely a local one) at a bargain price.
John Harbison was commissioned to write the concerto, and yesterday the Los Angeles Philharmonic performed his “Concerto for Bass Viol and Orchestra” (2005), performed by our principal of 30-some years, Dennis Trembly. This is a fairly short concerto; its three movements require a little less than 20 minutes. Harbison used a slightly reduced orchestra, and in Disney Hall Trembly’s bass was audible throughout the work’s range of pitch and technique. The work was particularly successful in having the bass become a singer, with several long, lyric melodies. Less successful was exploration of the top notes. The work could have used more fire, perhaps, or more emotion to add some force to the pleasant sounds. The work didn’t have a single consistent musical style, having elements from a wide range of musical history, so it did have color and interest. It was played as the center work between Janacek’s “Vixen” suite and the Dvorak 7th, and the Harbison worked with its companions. Salonen is away all month and we’ve had a series of bland concerts with a series of guest conductors, but yesterday’s conductor, Carlos Kalmar, was a pleasant surprise.
Oct 18 2006
Last night’s Green Umbrella concert of new music was the first concert in Los Angeles solely comprising Australian music, and it was a real success. As the second part of the Phil’s recognition of Dean as composer, he was given freedom to select the program and his own role. So we saw Brett Dean as composer, as performer on viola, as conductor, as commentator, as programmer, and — in all of these — as effective communicator. This was an evening that deserved to be recorded and made available for download so that more than the thousand in Disney Hall last night could hear this music and those performances. Dean, himself, is poorly represented on recordings. I find several including Dean as performer on viola, but only three containing a short composition each. To add to the pain, the most recent of these was a commission from the Berlin which is included on Rattle’s new release of Holst’s “Planets; the work, “Komarov’s Fall”, is on the recording — but Dean is not identified as composer so that an Amazon search on Dean will fail to find the work, and an iTunes search will locate the recording but fail to tell you which “song” is the reason for the match.
The major works of the evening were Dean’s. In the first half we heard his “Voices of Angels” (written in 1996, the oldest work on the program, as Dean pointed out). He wrote the work while still in Berlin, premiered by Berlin colleagues in the small hall of the Philharmonie. This work is for Schubert’s quintet: violin, viola, cello, bass, piano; by coincidence we heard the “Trout” on Monday night, and “Voices of Angels” (of similar length) could hold its own on a program including both, a program intended for less adventurous ears. I suppose the caveat is that the players must be good enough to handle the advanced techniques asked of them by Dean.
The climax of the second half of the concert was Dean’s “Pastoral Symphony” (2000), written on his return from Berlin to Australia and his rediscovery of Australian spaces and natural resources, specifically including its birds. Also impacting the piece was his recognition of the loss of environment from expansion and modernization; in the music a bucolic environment at the start of the work becomes largely supplanted by construction, by shopping centers, by freeways. The work is a 20-minute movement for a small chamber orchestra with prominent winds and percussion: 3 violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos, bass; flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, trombone, tuba; 2 percussion, piano; sampler. I joined what seemed to be almost all of the audience in liking this work very, very much; however, as Dean told the audience, by a large margin this was the largest audience for a new music concert he had experienced — and the most responsive. We liked it. Salonen was just a few seats away; he like it, too.
The program began with the first U.S. performance of Liza Lim’s “Songs Found in Dream” (2005), commissioned by the Salzberg Festival and premiered by Klangforum Wien. Lim received a Phil commission, writing “Ecstatic Architecture” for the first season in Disney Hall. I wasn’t enthusiastic then, and the newer work last night didn’t communicate to me. My wife says the problem is with me; she said that the work clearly evoked the images in aboriginal art and in petroglyphs, and she was surprised I didn’t hear this. Lim’s web site includes music of three of her compositions.
For the second half of the program Dean introduced his younger (27) colleague, Anthony Pateras, who came on stage looking as if he’d much rather be in a club or a studio, and not in this large auditorium with audience sitting in orderly rows. (His web site gives a clue of why he might feel that.) He seemed much more relaxed when he returned on stage to acknowledge the continuing applause after his first work; later, after performing the second of two pieces, you could see him having his own “Sally Fields” moment: “They like me, they really like me!” I hope someone was taping this for his records, a few years from now.
The first Pateras piece was “Chromatophore” (2003) for amplified strings (2 of each instrument). The name comes from the pigment cell used to change colors by chameleons or fish. Through technique and amplification the work uses strings almost as percussion instruments; sustained tones (i.e., traditional string sounds) are minimized. The work was developed through improvizations, and while it now has a written structure, each player has cells in which independent playing is required. Within the approach of limiting sustained notes, the work explores the pitches of thee common diatonic scale. The music was challenging and stimulating.
Pateras’ solo work was a movement from a work-in-progress, “Continuums & Chasms, Movement vii”. This is for fully-prepared piano, in which each note of the piano is altered. For this work, Pateras seemed to structure the alterations into clusters: in some, sounding of a pitch was minimized; in others, the pitch and tonal color were altered in various ways, producing gong-like effects, for example. He uses very rapid fingerings as he moves across the keyboard, and the uses of different types of sound creates very interesting colorings. Both Pateras works were performed in U.S. premieres. I lack the language to convey how interesting these pieces were as music, not merely as sound.
The re-birth of Monday Evening Concerts is achieved! The brochure for the 2006-2007 season has been released and is shown on the web site. Four concerts! I only wish that at least one of the four concerts was for local new music and that another was for other American new music. My private campaign is for them to hire Kyle Gann as one of the curators. Well, maybe next year. Just having the program alive is accomplishment enough for now.
Oct 16 2006
Six years ago, Sequenza21 published an interesting interview with Brett Dean. The violist who was once the youngest member of the Berlin Philharmonic was beginning to be recognized as a composer. This was about the time he made his first appearance with members of the LA Philharmonic in a “Green Umbrella” concert of new music, performing his work “Intimate Decisions” for viola. S21, typically prescient, gave a lede to the interview stating that if you hadn’t heard of Dean yet, “You will. You will.”
This season Dean is the first contemporary composer to be given a spotlight by the LA Phil, in two programs. Yesterday’s subscription concert featured Dean’s “Viola Concerto” (2005) with the composer as soloist and the full orchestra conducted by Salonen. Salonen brought out a microphone to introduce Dean to the audience, commenting on how rare (these days) it is to hear a composer performing his own concerto, much less to be so accomplished in both performance and composition. The Phil was one of the co-commissioners for this significant work. Dean relates that it was initially written as only two movements, but that he then felt the piece needed an introductory movement to provide a frame-setting for the musical ideas.
The first movement, “Fragment”, establishes Dean’s sound, quietly growing in space. “Pursuit” then places the solo viola in a chase with the orchestra. Dean’s notes for the work refer to this movement as what could have happened if Paul Hindemith had played in a band with Tom Waits, an interesting idea. There are occasional respites from the chase, including a lovely and technically-demanding cadenza which also includes elements of bird calls. The relationship to Australia’s spaciousness and to its birds is a recurring element in several of Dean’s compositions. “Veiled and Mysterious” returns us to space and quiet of the first movement. The viola seems to meditate, and then it leads the orchestra into a re-examination of ideas of the first two movements. The viola, finally at peace, enters into a closing dialog with the English horn.
Dean made great use of sonic color from his orchestra, and the sound in Disney Hall was responsive. In the third movement, for example, a solo cello begins the orchestral accompaniment, with tremolo from violas; a second solo cello joins in, then a third, then a fourth. Other strings join the tremolo and then add their own lines. Bowed percussion add cool, metallic sounds to color the interactions. This is attractive music, music willing to be introspective as well as active, music able to take advantage of quiet as well as to build sound.
The program for the concert built in color. Haydn’s Symphony 82 (“The Bear”) began the program. Following intermission, Salonen conducted a sonic spectacular bringing out every possible color in Ravel’s orchestration of “Pictures at an Exhibition”.
On Saturday, the LA Opera did a really good job of community outreach. They presented two performances of a new work “Concierto para Mendez” with music by Lee Holdridge and libretto by Richard Sparks. This is a musical celebration of the life of the trumpeter Rafael Mendez; it combines elements of documentary, opera, and concerto for trumpet. Soloists from the Opera provided the singers and the LA Opera Orchestra provided the musical continuity and support. Mendez had an amazing life: dragooned into Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army as a trumpeter at the age of 10; immigrant to the United States as a laborer at 20; discovered as a musician and becoming a member of the Russ Morgan and Rudy Vallee orchestras; injured in an accident and having to readjust and retrain his embouchure; first chair trumpet for the MGM Orchestra, the best of the studios, at 35; starting a life as soloist and teacher at 40. Six local trumpet students were selected to appear as his students in the work. The performances were free.
Oct 02 2006
“What to Wear” ended its all-too-short run yesterday. When you find out its schedule for performance in New York, get your tickets right away. Better yet, get tickets for two dates (or more), because you’ll want more than one evening. As reported and commented on last week, this is the opera with music by Michael Gordon and libretto, design, direction, and occasional voice-overs by Richard Foreman. Gordon’s music is a pleasure to hear and feel. (I wouldn’t have minded a few fewer decibels.) David Rosenboom, one of whose sidelights is being dean of the CalArts School of Music, was music director and he led a pulsing, vibrant performance. An ensemble of seven musicians (two keyboards, two violins, bass, electric guitar, percussion), all superior talents.
The opera reaches an emotional and philosophical climax in the scene that contemplates and presents the inevitable results when a duck enters a fine restaurant. Following this catharsis, the heroine’s wondering whether or not she is still beautiful and her realization that golf can still be part of her life gave closure to those of us in the audience. Foreman’s text and direction allows for some individual interpretations by the audience. For example, one reviewer believes that the four heroines (two sopranos, alto, and tenor) are sisters, while I feel they are merely different aspects of the same physical person. The four soloists and the six women of the singing chorus gave excellent performances, as did the eleven gender-free members of the movement ensemble. Thank you, CalArts and REDCAT.
Watch for news, and go see this. See it twice. It’s great fun.