Over the years I’ve spent running New Classic LA, I’ve heard time and time again the narrative that the torch of new music in Los Angeles is being passed down from our venerable old institutions like Monday Evening Concerts and the LA Phil’s Green Unbrella series to newer, more agile ensembles and series like wild Up and WasteLAnd. Old wisdom had it that the best way for a composer to get played in LA was to move to New York. I hope, with the massive triumph and all-inclusive nature of the LA Phil’s Noon to Midnight event on Saturday, these narratives can finally be put to rest. The torch isn’t being passed down, it’s being shared, and everyone is invited.
First, let’s talk scale. Disney Hall’s spaces were opened up to many of LA’s ensembles and series, and the 12 hour marathon, in which it was impossible to catch everything, featured the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, Piano Spheres, wild Up, gnarwhallaby, WasteLAnd, the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Monday Evening Concerts, the USC Percussion Ensemble, The Industry, Jacaranda, Chris Kallmyer, Lucky Dragons, the LA Phil Bass Quintet, the LA Phil New Music Group, as well as a slew of food trucks and a small tasting area for a few beers from SolArc, a brewery that began life catering wild Up parties.
Programming was the spirit of inclusiveness itself, though with a somewhat surprising slant toward sounds and big works from the European, harder, avant-garde. Piano Spheres presented Messiaen’s complete, three-hour, Catalogue d’oiseaux in the garden’s Keck Amphitheatre, calling on pianists Vicky Ray, Susan Svrcek, Thomas Kotcheff, Aron Kallay, Steven Vanjauwaert, Nic Gerpe, Danny Holt, Mark Robson, Joanne Pearce Martin, Sarah Gibson, Richard Valitutto, and Nadia Shpachenko. The playing was top notch, as expected with a roster like that, and the sounds floating in from the garden and street actually served the piece well, putting Messiaen’s birds in a context where you might actually find a few of them.
Other euro-avant picks for the day included the USC Percussion Ensemble’s performance of Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique with a restoration of the original Léger film, and gnarwhallaby’s even-more-aggressive-than-usual delivery of Gorecki’s Muzyczja IV, a brief, crushing, aleatoric sort of trombone concerto that was the original impetus for the group’s formation. With the LA Phil’s penchant for Gorecki’s later, more accessible, work, hearing this punch in the face in Disney Hall was a serious treat, and a highlight of the day.
But let’s get to the new stuff. Wild Up has built a National Composers Intensive in partnership with the LA Phil, in which young composers get to write for the chamber orchestra on a fast deadline, with mentorship from established personalities in the field. Wild Up picked four works for their 1 pm show, from Tina Tallon, Thomas Kotcheff, Katherine Balch, and Ali Can Puskulcu. All showed off unique voices and impressive command of orchestration. Thomas Kotcheff’s gone/gone/gone beyond/gone beyond beyond was the highlight, a riotous, overtly physical, totally insane, “total excess in all things all the time” piece that only a band like wild Up could pull off. It was convincing, self indulgant, and I loved it. I was also unaware before hearing it that guitarist Chris Kallmyer could shred that hard.
Tina Tallon’s Sear, which delved into her life with tinnitus after rupturing an ear drum a couple years ago, was a wrenching and effective listen, and my favorite piece of hers yet. Bowed styrofoam and a power drill could have been gimmicky, as could the whole idea of basing a piece on high drones and sounds disappearing – but Tina handled them with aplomb. It’s a dangerous artistic line she chose to walk with Sear, and she nailed it.
Turning back to the heavier avant-garde, WasteLAnd’s set in BP Hall had the premiere of Nicholas Deyoe’s Finally, the cylindrical voids tapping along, with text by Allison Carter sung by soprano Stephanie Aston. This seemed to show a slightly simpler and more direct side of Deyoe’s writing, as his vocal music sometimes does – but I say seemed to because the bleed of crowd noise into BP Hall became a real problem for the chamber music sets as the day went on. I am sure Ashley Walters’ performance of Liza Lim’s Invisiblity was utterly stunning, and Erik Ulman’s Tout Orgueil… seemed delicate and thought provoking – but we’ll have to go to WasteLAnd’s repeat of the performance this Friday at Art Share to be sure.
Not at all affected by the crowd noise was the LA Percussion Quartet’s performance in the same space later in the day. Daniel Bjarnason and Ellen Reid presented pieces in line with their dominant aesthetics. This is by no means a bad thing – Bjarnason’s Qui Tollis had a few ideas about varying ostinati and loops from his piano concerto Processions and was similarly thrilling, and Reid’s Fear / Release was covered in decorative flourishes reminiscent of her rooftop scene from Hopscotch, a highlight of that massive opera. Jeffrey Holmes’ Ur, on the other hand, was a break through premiere. With the ensemble surrounding the audience, each musician surrounded by similar set ups of gongs, toms, bass drums, flower pots, and cymbals, we listeners were bathed in swirling cascades of sound, as players echoed each others gestures a few beats apart. I’m not sure that the piece would work as well without the spatialization – but with it, it was magic. Thankfully LAPQ tends to record in surround sound, so the effect won’t be lost when they get around to Ur.
Surprisingly, the evening Green Umbrella concert, with its more traditional format, felt significantly less interesting than the rest of the day. The music was perfectly good – Kate Soper’s The Ultimate Poem Is Abstract was wonderful, as was the composer/singer’s assured and entertaining delivery of the text, and Ingram Marshall’s Flow was lovely as expected – but sitting in the hall, being quiet between movements somehow felt like a comedown from the high of running around from show to show, seeing friends from across the new music spectrum enjoying all sorts of different things.
Wild Up’s 10 pm set changed that. Conductor/composer Christopher Rountree’s Word. Language. Honey., a violin concerto commissioned for Jennifer Koh who tore into it with abandon, was unequivocally the best thing Rountree has written yet. Days later, as I type this, I still get chills thinking about the unison bass drum hits decaying into the distance, and the frantic shredding of strings at the opening giving way to more lyrical passages throughout, and the clever use of text (the piece began with misdirection, as the band started playing while Rountree was seemingly introducing the program), his words coming back in recorded form later. I’ve always liked his music, but Word. Language. Honey. takes his composing from “assured, effective, solid, I like it” to stunning, unique, and powerful. It’s a piece not to be missed.
This review could easily continue for another thousand words. Andrew McIntosh’s Yelling Into The Wind was clever and effective, a sort of play on the whole concept of the virtuoso concerto, as pianist Richard Valitutto traded simple lines with individual soloists from the rest of the ensemble. The Industry’s installation, Nimbus, with music from Rand Steiger, clouds floating above the elevators, musicians and singers walking around (also reminiscent of the last scene of Hopscotch) was whimsical and fun and gave life to an unusually dead space in Disney Hall. Jacaranda’s performance of Steve Reich’s Eight Lines was solid – Donald Crockett’s conducting is impossibly clear, useful for minimalism – and the crickets in the literal spotlight of Chris Kallmyer’s Crickets sang their little cricket hearts out.
The support from a major institution like the LA Phil of all these smaller, grassroots organizations is a huge boon to the LA scene. The phil knows that they wouldn’t have an audience for new music without the work of all these other presenters, and despite the right-leaning shade of the phrase “a rising tide lifts all ships,” every new music group in town will benefit from days like these, whether they were on the program or not.
A day after the event, I saw an instagram post from Kallmyer, a photo of his crickets being released into the wild. They sang together in his little box. Maybe now they’ll go spread all over LA and keep singing, inspired by what they did when they were together. As for the zillion musicians and ensembles and composers that the LA Phil invited into their home on Saturday, I know they will. LA Phil, thanks for having us.
Back in July I was invited to a garden party hosted by Jacaranda, at which they featured five pianists and an incredible lunch [I don’t usually plug businesses on here, but Cafe Luxxe in Brentwood provided the coffee service and dude, their stuff is delicious]. They also announced the concert lineup for their 2012-13 season, which features composers John Cage and Benjamin Britten, and works inspired by or connected to them. It’s an impressive one to say the least, kicking off on with a four-day Cage festival on September 6 that includes a complete (read: 24 hour long) performance of Erik Satie’s Vexations. I caught up with Artistic Director Patrick Scott to talk about what’s coming up. Check it out:
Okay, the garden party was epic. Tell our readers about it.
The party celebrated the end of the season and announces the new one. We featured five of the pianists who will perform in the next season. They each played 10-15 minutes of music (total 70 in two sets) that is in some way related to the upcoming concerts, including this year’s special pre-season Cage 100 Festival. A fabulous lunch was served between the two sets. The first set includes solo and four hands music played by Danny Holt and Steven Vanhauwaert, aka 4HandsLA.
Danny played music by David Lang and Nico Muhly. Excerpts of Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion will be included in the December concert, “Winter Dreams,” as will Knee Play V from Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass, Muhly’s mentor. Steven also played Old & Lost Rivers by Tobias Picker. Picker’s piece The Encantadas will receive its LA premiere in October’s concert, “Different Islands.” Together they played Eric Satie’s own 4 hands arrangement of his ballet, Parade. Satie was a major influence on Cage and his Vexations will be played over 24 hours by 32 pianists (including all 5) in the festival. Danny and Steven will perform in Steve Reich’s City Life in October. And they will both play the original 4 hands arrangement of The Rite of Spring in February. Steven will perform with the Pantoum Trio in the US premiere of Eric Tanguy’s Trio in November’s “Seduction.” Steven is also prominently featured on the season finale playing a rare Benjamin Britten concerto.
Genevieve Feiwen Lee played more Satie, and Nothing is Real (Strawberry Fields) by Alvin Lucier, a disciple of Cage. Aron Kallay will perform the Lucier in the festival. Genevieve will also play sampling keyboard in City Life. Aron, who will join her on the second sampling keyboard, played three Un-intemezzi by Veronika Krausas, just because I wanted to hear them live and the pieces fit the program well. To close, Grammy-winner Gloria Cheng played Cage’s In a Landscape and Les sons impalpables du rêve from Messiaen’s Preludes. Messiaen was deeply influenced by Debussy, whose 150th anniversary we celebrate in November. Gloria will open the season with music by Esa-Pekka Salonen written for her. She will also perform the Ligeti Piano Concerto in January’s “Fierce Beauty.”
Quite a few party guests to bought subscriptions and festival tickets.
The next season, the one the party is supporting, features 100 year shindigs for both Cage and Britten. They seem like an unlikely pair, but the music you program with Jacaranda is really wide ranging. What are your thoughts going into programming?
Cage’s actual 100th birthday is September 5, 1912 in Los Angeles. We start celebrating the next day in our regular venue First Presbyterian. It’s a really unusual, fun and wild program with a lot of short pieces including a super-rare performance of an organ work based on 18th century New England hymns. Chance is a factor as three “assistants” pull the stops according to I Ching tosses. We then move to the Miles Playhouse in the middle of a park for 24 hours for Satie’s Vexations. The next venue was a place Cage regularly lectured about contemporary art and premiered his earlier music: Santa Monica Bay Women’s Club. To close we will be at the Annenberg Beach House. Brooklynite Adam Tendler will play from memory the complete Sonatas & Interludes by Cage — his gentle gamelan-like masterpiece for prepared piano. I think Cage is attractive to a younger audience and I hope they will come back for the Steve Reich.
We love Britten and think he is under-appreciated and under played here. Both Cage and Britten were gay, but very different. Britten’s birthday was November 22. 1913. We are dedicating three consecutive concerts to Britten, as well as including a work for children’s chorus and organ in December’s “Winter Dreams.” The programming takes a biographical approach and one that emphasizes his relationship with the tenor Peter Pears and their life in Brooklyn during WWII. A bunch of American composers and the Canadian Colin McPhee were their friends. So the March concert will put Britten in this milieu. We will stage our first opera, Britten’s Curlew River, a one-act chamber opera intended for church performance. There is an all male cast and the central role of the Madwoman was originally created by Pears in 1963. Internationally, the most exciting young opera director, LA-based Yuval Sharon, will direct. The season finale is full of contrasts, super popular and super obscure, solo piano to string orchestra with string quartet and piano.
We are celebrating Britten in the early part of 2013 because the 2013-14 season is our Tenth Anniversary and we cannot devote so many concerts to one composer.
Great programming takes a very deep knowledge of repertoire, history and culture. It depends on alchemy and intuition as well. I am not a trained musician so I have the advantage of approaching programs from the audience’s point of view. I want the atmosphere of the intermission to be charged with the afterglow of excitement, of shared discovery, of intense sensation and emotion. That state readies the audience for the substantial journey of the second half — full of surprises and challenges. At the end of a concert I want the audience to feel deeply satisfied and on a high.
How do you think programming such a range of music affects audiences’ experience? Do you find the same crowd at most of your concerts, or does the audience change drastically from say, the Debussy concert coming up in November to the second Viennese school one set for February?
I like variety — within a concert and within the season. But I also like things to be connected in unusual ways. The Jacaranda audience is quite loyal because the performance quality is super high and the adventure is planned to span the whole season, sometimes reflecting back on season’s past. I hope each concert will attract new listeners that will become loyal because they trust that the journey will be an exciting one, full of dazzling virtuosity and musical commitment. Among our audience development strategies, we do targeted outreach through the Consulates General. This year the consulates of France, Hungary, Austria and Britain will help.
What excites you about presenting this music in LA?
The amazing talent pool of musicians here makes almost anything possible; and the sophisticated audience in LA really has an appetite for new and modern music.
What would you like to see change here, whether about your own series or our town’s scene in general?
The geography of LA traffic is making it harder for people downtown, in Hollywood, and Pasadena to attend our concerts in Santa Monica. Eventually the train will help. In the meantime, we need more support in the media to inspire people to make the trek across town, by making a whole afternoon of their Santa Monica visit. There are awesome restaurants nearby, as well as the beach, shopping and movies on the Promenade, Bergamot Station, the newly renovated Santa Monica Mall, and two parking structures nearby. We have people regularly driving from Riverside, Whittier and Long Beach! There is a guy who actually drives from Arizona once a year! It just takes a little more planning.
For more details and tickets, visit jacarandamusic.org.
I just discovered the Gordon Getty Concerts series, held at (you guessed it) The Getty Center. I haven’t been to one yet, but they look like really, really cool programs, all of which are designed to highlight or compliment a current exhibit at the museum. On November 12, electronic music pioneer Carl Stone will be there to play a mixed program of early works and world premieres. The shows are pretty cheap too, $15 max, or $10 for students and seniors. For details, visit the series’ page.
That second week of November is going to be huge. The very same night, Synchromy open their season over on the east side of town. The next night the LA Master Chorale performs The Little Match Girl Passion. Vicki Ray is playing an all premiere program (including one of her own) on Tuesday with Piano Spheres down at Zipper Hall, and the week closes with both wild Up and Jacaranda rocking their respective houses (both near the beach!) on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The American Youth Symphony (who sound absolutely amazing this year, and never charge admission) are performing Lutosławski’s Fourth Symphony and Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (and Beethoven 5) on Sunday as well.
Details about all of these, as always, can be found on our concert listings page.