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Cage’s Fragmented Opera, Re-Gifted to West Coast

As part of the LA Phil’s FLUXUS festival the LA Phil New Music Group teamed up with The Industry to produce John Cage’s Europeras 1 & 2—a late work by the American Experimentalist that submits Europe’s great operatic repertoire to a radical fracturing and re-compiling that divorces all aspects of the music, production, and lighting from one another (and even from itself in the case of the orchestra and singers). As independent voices, music, lights, and staging overlay one another in a new, atomized context, the audience is left “wandering through the forest of opera” as director Yuval Sharon put it in a promotional interview with music advisor Marc Lowenstein.

Europeras 1 & 2 were originally conceived by Cage as a sending-back of the robust opera repertoire imported to American opera houses from Europe–albeit after undergoing a particularly Cagean postmodern treatment. Now staged at Sony Pictures Studios some 30 years later, it was perhaps appropriate that this imagining of the work introduced a further degree of de- and re-construction in which the audience was privy to action taking place off-stage, to the sides and behind the stage. This was effective in helping to incorporate the sounds of production (e.g., ropes and pulleys, rolling props, actors entering and exiting the stage) into the sound world of the work, though the pre-recorded tape component would have better suited the production had it been panned across the stage (perhaps even through separate speakers on stage) rather than across the audience. As it stood, the recording felt too removed from the action of the production to be perceived by the audience as an incorporated part of the work. The taped excerpts aside, though, the sound was good and The Industry rightfully resisted the urge to micromanage the balance of particular combinations for more traditional aesthetic effects. It was a clean and measured performance that carried a calm, well-rehearsed sense about it. If there was something to criticize musically, the performers themselves might have been given license for a bit more of the “delight in noticing” that Sharon and Lowenstein mention in the taped interview; instead of the wonder of unexpected moments of collision and harmony between elements, the various components felt very separate and compartmentalized.

Admittedly, I understand the impulse to let the individual components speak for themselves without heavy-handed coordination. But I think the trap that a work like Europeras confronts is that the absurdity can  easily become admired for its disjunct comedy rather than for the beauty of its composite subtleties. It is no doubt that a work of this length and style will have moments that are funny, chaotic, disjointed. But other moments must be allowed to breathe, to embrace, to demonstrate that beauty and art arise naturally and without our intervention if we are open to experiencing them.

To quote Sharon once more, as he described this sentiment so eloquently: “Opening up to chance allows us to see that our perspective of things being as they are limits us to the potential of how things can be.” At moments I felt the production focused too heavily on the importance of chance itself as an anti-rhetoric or aesthetic, rather than as a tool for exploring and embracing new coincidences that resonate with us as humans. The moments that did revel in that admiration of how things can be, of suprise, of resisting ego, though, were powerful.

Mälkki Curates a Glance Across the Pond

At this Tuesday’s installment of the Green Umbrella series, Susanna Mälkki led the LA Phil New Music Group in a program of some of the freshest avant-garde voices from across the pond. Representing composers from Germany, France, Italy, Finland, and the Czech Republic, the works shared a certain foregrounding of detail and reservedness that resonated with the spirit of the mid-late century European avant-garde. And yet, each composer brought a distinct style and set of tricks to the night; the result was a well-curated program that was both challenging and rewarding.

The first two works of the evening defined the outer ends of the night’s spectrum. Francesco Filidei’s Lamento for organ offered a murky display of the sonic boundaries of the organ, from earth-rumbling lows to shimmering flourishes smeared by the hall’s natural reverberance. On the other hand were six (of the dozen) songs from Arnulf Herrmann’s chamber song cycle, The Call. Marc Lowenstein stepped in to conduct on the Herrmann, joined by baritone Sean Michael Plumb who was excellent, both in the quality of his voice and the artistic choices he made to convey the longing, fear, and paralysis of the text. Where the Filidei approached an abstract and observational piece of sound art, Herrmann’s work invoked a more traditional approach to both the overarching form and the vocal writing—an effective choice given the content and medium.

The remaining works lived somewhere between, distinguished less by difference of intention than by their subtle sonic magic tricks (partially responsible for the program conveying a strong sense of European rather than American avant-garde). Rounding out the first half was Lotta Wennäkoski’s Hele, an eccentric and energetic respite from the broodiness of the first two works. Wennäkoski utilized the slide whistle amid frantic and agile ensemble writing to sometimes atmospheric, sometimes cartoonish, but always surprising effect. In Miroslav Srnka’s Overheating, it was instead the sweeping percussion and the accordion sustaining through musical ebbs that charged the sound world of the ensemble with something extra. Both works demonstrated careful attention to orchestration and technique on the part of the composers, which the LA Phil New Music Group and Mälkki highlighted with clear, transparent performances.

The standout of the program was the final work, Yann Robin’s Übergang II. It too employed some tricks—not only in the use of the piano, percussion, and harp but also in the combinations of extended techniques used throughout the ensemble—but what enraptured the audience was the genuineness of its musical gestures and ideas; Robin’s writing felt less like an artifact of the potential sounds embodied within an instrumentation, and more an effort to musically approximate something more personal, emotionally complicated, and human. There was a lot of the composer in the work, so to speak, which is often absent in modern music (and perhaps why it can feel alienating to the audience), and the ensemble (too) seemed moved by this connection. The result was a performance equally poised, yet infused with a certain emotional weight that encouraged a bit more risk on the part of the ensemble. That risk combined with the score’s intelligent use of textures and careful timing of events to produce an outstanding performance that embodied so much of the tension embedded in the avant-garde; how (or if) to remember the past, how (or if) to proceed in a tradition.

WasteLAnd talks with A(sh)perture ahead of this Friday’s show

On Friday, November 16th, wasteLAnd will present a guest-curated concert at ArtShare combining the incredible work of Aperture Duo and Ashley Walters.  Aperture and Ashley have each commissioned new pieces for this concert, from Erin Rogers and Trevor Bača, and have created a wonderful evening of solos, duos, and trios.

After our last WasteLAnd interview with Katie Young, I asked the WasteLAnd directors if they’d like to make a regular thing of interviewing their guest performers and composers. I think it’s illuminating to hear musicians interviewed by the people they’re working with; they have a far more detailed understanding of their projects than any outside journalist will. This is an ongoing project and one I hope to include other series and organizations in, so some details and formatting may change…but enough of me! The concert on the 16th at ArtShare is free and starts at 8, with free parking in the lot across Hewitt Street from the entrance.

Below are a few questions from wasteLAnd to Aperture and Ashley as well as a few questions to from the performers to composers Erin Rogers and Trevor Bača.

Questions from wasteLAnd to A(sh)perture

wasteLAnd: All of us at wasteLAnd are big fans of the work you do in your separate projects as Aperture Duo and Ashley as a soloist. You’ve obviously played together a lot in wild Up and in other mixed chamber settings. What has it been like to work as a trio on a project where the curation is left to you? Flow of the evening, rep decisions, the rehearsal process, etc?

Ashley: I have long admired Aperture’s performances and their repertoire choices; it was a pleasure to be involved in this process with them!  As three performers who value working with composers — performing on a series that promotes new works and also values collaboration — we thought it was appropriate to commission new pieces for this concert. Both Aperture and myself chose composers (Erin Rogers and Trevor Bača) with whom we already had a personal connection. Aperture will perform two works as a duo and I, two solos; these sets showcase each entity’s aesthetic. Choosing trio repertoire was quite easy! We all had a mutual love for the episodic writing of Apergis’ trio and the lush writing of Gubaidulina. Because we have performed together in the past I think we had a vision of what pieces would suit this ensemble. Thank you wasteLAnd for bringing us together!

wasteLAnd: Aperture as a duo, and Ashley in solo performances both have strongly formed identities. Everything feels decided and cared for to me. I’ve never seen Aperture or Ashley perform something that didn’t feel to me like you had already made it your own. How was the process of bringing your approaches together for the Gubaidulina and Aperghis trios that you’ve included on this concert?

Aperture: We’ve had so much fun working on these trios with Ashley! We all share an attention to detail, an eye for large shapes and structures, and a curiosity for sound. These traits have led to very productive and satisfying rehearsals. We have been able to really dig into this repertoire together, as Ashley is so well versed in the languages of the composers that she performs. As a duo, we each fill many musical roles in our repertoire. But with a third player, our roles are much more “tried and true” with high, medium, and low registers. Exploring this has been very enjoyable for us and we can collectively play so much louder, which is a treat!

wasteLAnd:Would you share a bit about your relationship with Erin Rogers and Trevor Bača and their world premieres written for this show?

Aperture: We met Erin Rogers in 2016 while sharing a bill with her saxophone/percussion duo Popebama at the Home Audio concert series in Brooklyn. We were blown away by their theatricality, virtuosic musicality, and communication as performers. We were smitten, and we’ve been following Erin’s work as a performer and composer ever since. She has since worked with Nicholas Deyoe and Ashley Walters, and this WasteLAnd show felt like the perfect opportunity to premiere her new work for us.

Ashley: In March of 2017 the Formalist Quartet presented the west coast premiere of Trevor’s work Akasha on the Monday Evening Concerts series. This challenging, 30 minute quartet has a large arc full of complex and beautiful sounds that shift subtly from one to the other. I was particularly taken with Trevor’s writing for the low range of the cello, which is highlighted in his new solo cello piece, Nähte. My experience working with Trevor was moving and memorable and I have since hoped that we would have the opportunity to work together again. I am honored that he has written Nähte for me.

The process of learning Nähte has been a true joy. It requires experimenting with sounds and crafting gestures, and then weaving one to the next. While the outward virtuosity of the Xenakis’ solo cello piece, Kottos, is in the left hand and its extroverted sounds, the virtuosity in Trevor’s piece is in the right hand and in the subtlety of sounds transitioning from one to another.

Ashley Walters – Deyoe – another anxiety

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygmUiPqmNHs

Questions from A(sh)perture to Erin and Trevor

Aperture: Can you tell us a little about this piece?  What is it like to write for a duo as a member of a duo yourself?

Erin Rogers: Travelogue (2018) was written while touring Europe on a series of planes, trains, and buses. The title is a tribute to Joni Mitchell’s album of the same name, featuring an extensive collection of her songs that have been orchestrated. Theatricality is built into the piece through staging, text, and actions, both players doubling as train commuters and practicing musicians, while encountering a variety of notational geography.

Composing for duos is fulfilling. As a member of a duo myself, there is an accountability that comes from being 50% of a team and a fully committed band-member. The level of difficulty can increase, especially technically and rhythmically. Knowing that the musicians will rehearse with a familiarity of process and of each other, typically results in a dialogue and synchronicity not common in larger ensembles.

Ashley: What can you tell us about the process of writing, or the inspiration for, this piece?

Trevor: Collaborating with Ashley on the new cello solo — Nähte, the title is one of the German words for “stitches” — for the concert in November grew out of our work together last year when Ashley’s quartet — the Formalist Quartet — did the LA premiere of Akasha, my first string quartet, at the Monday Evening Concerts. The string quartet retunes the cello’s lowest string from C down to A, and it was during our rehearsals together then that I came to understand just how intensely Ashley’s cello — and her technique — glow, especially in the lower compass of the instrument’s range. I knew even then what materials I wanted to write the next time we worked together, and I knew too the sort of gestural (and even choreographic) language I wanted to invite Ashley into when it came time to work on a new piece. Fast forward to this year and Nähte is the result. The materials in the piece derive from some very precise workings-out of how the speed of the cello’s bow can be made to make very fast gestures even faster, and also from suffusing that type of thinking about the physics of the instrument with imaginings of Ashley’s body moving in, near, over and around the instrument: Ashley moves like a dancer when she plays, and so I wove a certain type of back-and-forth negotiation between left hand, right hand, arms, elbows and torso into the materials of the piece. When you listen to the music and watch Ashley at the same time, you’ll hear (and see) these wisps of very delicate sound flying from the lowest part of the instrument’s range, something like watching sparks or aerial contrails from a blue flame. The ‘tailoring’ of the music in this way was an important part of our working together, with the reward coming in the ways Ashley effects the music’s materials with both precision and a deep commitment to the sensuousness of the way the music moves.

wasteLAnd – A(SH)PERTURE at ArtShare-LA on November 16th is free, thanks to wasteLAnd successfully meeting the first tier of their fundraising goal. If they reach the next goal, the entire season will be free to all.

Southland Ensemble Shines a Light on Fluxus

The red paper lanterns above Chinatown’s Chung King Court bobbed in the nighttime wind and bathed Automata Arts in a warm glow during Southland Ensemble’s season opener celebrating Fluxus on November 10. As the audience gathered in twos and threes around the courtyard, the performers suddenly took off, holding tapered candles aloft that invariably died in the wind. Unperturbed, the players repeated the action several times over before careening into the gallery, concluding Larry Miller’s 200 Yard Candle Dash. A passerby stopped me as the audience, delighted and equally unperturbed, filed into the space. “What’s going on here?” she queried. “A music show,” I replied, before hastily clarifying ‘an art show’ when my first answer illuminated nothing based on what had just transpired. Of course, this perfectly encapsulates the Fluxus movement: that intermedia experience for both artist and audience valuing process over product.

The rest of the evening passed in an equally enjoyable fashion with selections from the Fluxus canon involving aspects of light. Some used it as a means to an end, as in Yoko Ono’s 1955 Lighting Piece: light a match and watch it until it goes out. Others used the cover of darkness to begin the process, as Tomas Schmit’s Sanitas No. 2 (of which there are 200) instructs the players to drop items on the floor and search for them. Audience members gamely made way for the artists as they searched with flashlights on the dimly lit floor for coins, corks, and other paraphernalia. Edison’s Lighthouse by Ken Friedman invites the creation of a gleaming passage of mirrors whose lights were slowly rearranged to mesmerizing effect.

On the sonic side of the Fluxus spectrum, Takehisa Kosugi’s Organic Music from 1964 calls upon the performers to utilize breath with or without incidental instruments. Southland Ensemble decided to encircle the audience while breathing in and out of harmonicas for a deeply meditative state. Candle Piece for Radios by George Brecht produced a medley of sonic events from white noise, radio ads, and praise for Jesus Christ.

The pièce de résistance was Robert Bozzi’s Choice 1, whereupon the performer brought out and unwrapped a bakery box containing a round, white frosted cake; affixed his safety goggles; and proceeded to light the cake’s candles with a blowtorch. He then blew out the candles and planted the cake in his face to close out the program.

The intrepid Southland Ensemble performed these and other tasks with a seriousness that avoided pretension yet gleefully embraced the more playful aspects of the evening. It was a refreshing take on a genre that can be anti-art and anti-audience, daring spectators to make sense out of seemingly nothing. With their welcoming spirit and engaging program, Southland Ensemble embarked on a communal journey to question the nature of performance; examine the mundane; and shine a light on a period of creativity that continues to remain fresh and relevant decades later.

Midterms: This Will Hurt Someone

With election day just a week away, Tuesdays@Monk Space offered Midterms: This Will Hurt Someone, a concert program devoted to contemporary music with a political viewpoint.

Grab it, by Jacob TV opened the show, preceded by a recorded track of coarse street talk that blended into an equally angry video. The four hands of HOCKET accompanied, and the raw stream of words was perfectly matched by a dense and powerful outpouring of piano notes. The music reflected the passionate resentment of those caught up in the wheels of a system intent on punishing the small time street criminal. Scenes of prison life and enraged inmates gave way at the finish to a hymn-like stretch that spoke hopefully of a life reclaimed after incarceration. Grab it is a stark reminder of the failings of American justice and how it perpetuates a violent underclass.

This Will Hurt Someone, by the late Matt Marks followed, arranged by pianist Thomas Kotcheff who accompanied vocalist Gregory Fletcher. The text for this piece is the final statement of R. Bud Dwyer, State Treasurer of Pennsylvania, asserting his innocence upon conviction of bribery in 1987. The music has an easy, sweet feel, and the entrance of a toy piano played by Sarah Gibson added a childlike innocence to the words. Fletcher sang calmly and gently, navigating the higher registers with a steady confidence. The music turned darker at times with lines such as “But in this nation, the world’s greatest democracy, there is nothing they can do to prevent me from being punished for a crime I did not commit.” Yet the placid character of the music continued, underlining the disconnect between the reality of conviction and Dwyer’s enduring sense of innocence. “This will hurt someone” were the last words spoken by Dwyer before committing suicide on-camera during the press conference. This piece is Matt Marks’ testament to an often misplaced confidence in our judicial system.

Counterpundit by Ian Dicke was next, a work that for piano and video performed by Aron Kallay. This opened with a quietly introspective piano line that attained a nostalgic sensibility at times. As the tempo increased, the music became more active and the video displayed a flag waiving in the breeze. Strong percussive beats were heard on the sound track of the video as the images became halting and choppy. As the piece proceeded, images of Hulk Hogan became increasingly intermingled with the flag until the video was dominated by wrestling personalities striking patriotic poses. Counterpundit was written during the 2016 election campaign and is an astute observation of how spectacle has replaced reasoned political discourse. The outcome of the election and the subsequent behavior of the present administration only amplifies Dicke’s central premise from 2016. The piece ended with a quiet introspective feel that seemed to be longing for a return to a more enlightened past.

Following the intermission Tonality, a ten-voice choir that specializes in music about justice issues, took the stage to perform “Her beacon-hand beckons”, the third movement of Caroline Shaw’s To the Hands. Lush four-part harmonies filled Monk Space with beautiful a cappella sounds and a peaceful sentiment. This perfectly matched the text, a freely paraphrased version of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty. The final line, “I will be your refuge…”, was particularly moving.

Philosophy of Furniture, by Natalie Dietterich followed, performed by speaking percussionist Derek Tywoniuk. A video projected a series of statements – ostensibly on the ideology of interior decoration and fashion – accompanied by loud, primal drum strokes. Tywoniuk shouted out the texts as they appeared on the screen, punctuating them with booming blasts and sharp raps. The contrast with the previous piece could not have been greater and the thunderous percussion created a compelling emphasis on the otherwise mundane stream words on the screen. The drift of the argument seemed to be that contemporary taste is overly influenced by money so that expensive furniture invariably acquired a higher status. “We proceed on false principals and imagine we have done a fine thing…” All of this unfurled seamlessly and Tywoniuk’s dexterity of was on full display as he attended to the many percussive elements while shouting out the spoken words at the correct instant. The text then took a most interesting turn. By describing the same processes that are at work in fashion, money was shown to similarly exert a decisive leverage on one’s political opinion. Philosophy of Furniture combines the quiet of subtle reasoning with explosive percussion to make a telling point.

Two pieces from widely known contemporary composers completed the concert program. “Which Side are you on?” the second movement of Four North American Ballads by Frederic Rzewski, began with a recorded vocal rendition of a Harlan County miners’ protest song. Rzewski’s take on the song, arranged for piano, followed immediately, full of strong chords and a sturdy texture that was ably realized by Thomas Kotcheff. The complexity and power of the music seemed to increase with each variation on the simple folk tune, filling the cozy Monk Space with a robust militancy and ending with a vigorous crescendo that drew cheers from the audience. Tonality closed the concert with Make Peace by David Lang, a composer known for his sensitivity and a strong sense of empathy. The close harmonies and delicate balance in the music were complimented by the house acoustics and excellent intonation by the singers. Make Peace was a gracefully tranquil ending to an often raucous examination of our current politics through contemporary music.

Midterms: This will Hurt Someone was a carefully curated and timely collection of diverse musical commentary on our political culture.

Dausgaard with LACO Make the Case for Traditional Programming

On October 27th, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra brought a program of Sibelius, Pärt, Grieg and Nielsen to Glendale’s Alex Theatre. Led by conductor Thomas Dausgaard, the ensemble sounded exceptional—crisp and intimate, but equally able to swell and saturate the hall when needed. Starting the evening with Grieg’s Two Norwegian Airs, Dausgaard demonstrated an immediate and deep connection with the strings, weaving together moments of drama and restraint with impeccable taste and timing. The musicians of LACO must have felt similarly because they met his every move with astounding cohesiveness, not only in the opening airs, but throughout the entire night.

Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto featured Anthony McGill, who brought so much personality to his performance that it was easy to miss the incredible amount of virtuosity required to navigate the clarinet passages. Compositionally, the Nielsen was the most difficult, not so much for its instrumental passages as for its disparate and sometimes confusing layering. But the soloist and ensemble approached even the most impervious moments with a sense of ownership and direction, and as a result the piece offered a fun, if challenging, display of McGill’s incredible technique and musical intuition.

In the second half, Dausgaard (I assume) made the decision to move seamlessly from the patient, meditative iterations of Pärt’s Silouan’s Song into Sibelius’s Symphony No. 3 with such conviction that most of the audience was moved to applaud at the end of the first movement of the symphony assuming the Pärt had contained some hidden inner movement. But the applause was well-justified if misplaced, as the strength of the shared musical ideas between conductor and ensemble was as strong and tight as any I’ve heard. Moreover, the ensemble inhabited the sound world of each piece with an easy confidence that highlighted what a traditional programming format can be at its best: old and new, refined and showy, serious and fun. It was each of those things, with each work standing on its own—greater than the sum of its parts, but not built around supporting a single centerpiece. Had any single piece not been performed so brilliantly, the same program might have felt passively formulaic. Instead it made the case for the formula.

Mälkki Leads Massive Mahler and New Reich at the LA Phil

Thursday was the opening performance of a concert featuring Susanna Mälkki leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the world premiere of Steve Reich’s new work for orchestra, as well as in Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 5. Reich’s Music for Ensemble and Orchestra offered the driving, minimalist soundscape that you might expect from his music. The repeating two-chord pattern in the piano that initiates the piece is revealed occasionally during the ebbs of his thick, sparkling textures, facilitated by Mälkki’s attention to balance and pacing. Reich’s music taps into something so fundamental about why and how we experience musical excitement that any moments of predictability have a friendly familiarity rather than any sense of cliché.

If there was anything to criticize in the performance, it was some slightly opaque moments in the middle; it was difficult to tell whether the performance was dragging or if the piece had written in some details that did not quite translate. It was interesting to see how committed both Mälkki and the musicians were during the Mahler, and while obviously the Mahler calls for much larger forces, I still felt that some of that emotional investment might have benefitted the Reich. In both cases, a few of the, let’s say, weirder moments—particularly during transitions—were allowed to be awkward without an attempt to find some detail or nuance to connect it to the rest of the work. Granted, those passages are in some ways a feature of Mahler, but with a program consisting of only these two works, I would have wished for some defining attention to those moments.

Overall, though, this program balanced ambition with direction in a way only the LA Phil could. It was performed well by the principles and members of the philharmonic, and Mälkki seems to be connecting ever more deeply with the audience here in Los Angeles. If these first few weeks of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 100th season are any indication, this season will be as special as promised.

Joep Beving @ The Lodge Room

Joep Beving’s towering stature and flowing beard command a certain attention that is softened by his charming, slightly awkward, stage demeanor. The Dutch composer/pianist gained a formidable following after the 2015 release of his debut album, Solipsism—a collection of intimately personal music curated into bite-size chunks. Two years later, the release of Prehension suggested a promising development of style; a little more minimalist and a little less Chopin, but maintaining Beving’s accessibility and a more-polished version of his soft-pedal, compressed piano sound throughout. The projects he has since embarked on with Rahi Rezvani (music video), and with the various artists tasked with re-imagining his music on his latest album, Contatus, offer insight into the allure of his sound world: In a time of loaded, impassioned rhetoric, Beving’s offerings are stripped-down journal entries, unencumbered by any specific intention for conclusion or definition.  His music defines its emotional narrative by looking inwards and backwards from within a culture obsessed with pointing outward and forward.

The spirit of his performance at the Lodge Room on October 23rd embraced the branding so carefully promoted by his promoters and reviewers—one of a reflective, if reclusive, lumberjack, plucked from obscurity for his grand resonance among a generation of online music anthropologists. There is certainly some truth to the myth, evidenced by a few especially enthusiastic audience members, but the implication of  his “genius” and the insistence on his role as a bridge to classical music completely misses the mark: the potency of his work lies in its utter simplicity, its transportive removedness from intellectualism, it’s transparency as music for his own enjoyment. The audience connects with Beving because some part of us can imagine ourselves hovering over a late-night piano, repeating a sentimental chord progression with just the right amount of eeriness to perpetually warrant one more pass. Where classical form usually takes us on a journey of discovery, this music lies patiently in wait, attaching to passing feelings and memories before itself moves on.

My difficulty with Beving’s performance is that this type of music doesn’t always lend itself to a full concert by itself. Admittedly, the sound at the Lodge room was excellent, and Beving’s decision to pair groups of pieces together without intermittent applause was smart. The piano could have been cleaner had Beving treated his louder/denser passages with a bit less pedal or reverb, but the larger issue was that in Beving’s sound world, the melody is more an artifact of the chord progression than a vocal-type line that drives the texture and development. This isn’t an issue in itself, but it means that after a while the pieces start to blend together, and the mellow respite quickly becomes a taxing exercise in zazen. There is some (subtle) variety of texture in Beving’s catalogue, but those moments were saved for the final two pieces—one which used live processing to add a warped, nostalgic atmosphere, and another which featured a distinct physicality and momentum through rapidly alternating chords between hands. Those works might have been better placed in the program order to introduce a more interesting overall shape to the concert, but I think the whole performance would have benefitted from additional media—even just some simple accompanying video or audio content from his computers—scattered throughout the evening.

Instead, at moments it felt that the only play borrowed from the “classical” book was the expectation on the audience to sit quietly and pretend to ignore the rumbling from the dishwasher in the back of the bar. For me, that is too much to ask of this set and this music; traditional concert halls are built specially for people who want to participate in that expectation and still those performances fail regularly at curating an ideal concert experience. Moreover, while I appreciate the impulse to suggest  musical credibility through the classical bend of his branding and representation, the relationship of Beving’s music to the classical tradition is surface-level at best; which isn’t at all a criticism (in fact, quite the opposite) but I think many may find the connection an empty and unnecessary gesture (especially given the trend of highly-trained musicians away from “classical” self-branding at the moment). If I see Joep Beving perform again—and I sincerely hope I do—I hope his performance abandons that misguided adoption of classical performance practice and instead finds creative ways to mirror the distinct ambience, intimacy, and reflectiveness of his music. His musical genuineness deseves a concert experience like-mindedly personal.

WasteLAnd’s Biomes paints a portrait of Katherine Young

WasteLAnd marked the opening of their sixth season with a packed venue for a concert titled Biomes, featuring three pieces by Chicago-based composer Katherine Young. Katherine Young’s pieces are multimedia electroacoustic works. She incorporates not only sounds, but lights, movement, interactive performance, and anything in between. The first piece of the night, Earhart & the Queen of Spades performed by LA-based guitarist Nicholas Deyoe, uses a variety of sounds on the electric guitar. Hearing an electric guitar make unusual noises isn’t anything new, but the way Deyoe created the sounds is. Instead of a guitar pick, Deyoe used an array of hand-held objects such as small battery-powered fans, strings of pearls, keys, and bobby pins. These objects, Young explained in the program notes, reference lost objects and myths and femininity. When the fans hover above the amplified strings, the guitar creates an eerie hum; when the fan blades strike the strings, it makes a sizzling effect. The pearls, as you might guess, sound somewhere between raindrops and hail. Each sound emanation was intriguing in its own right. Young pulled out all the stops to create a twenty-minute piece of interwoven sounds, pitches, and rhythmic motifs.

The second piece of the night displayed a completely different approach to music. The Wurlitzer part (performed brilliantly by Wells Leng) used relatively typical twentieth-century techniques like whole tone scales and cluster chords. Combined with Matt Barbier whispering and crooning microtones into the euphonium, Underworld (Dancing) reminded me of an eerie yet meditative take on an old-timey calliope dance. Basically, it’s how I imagine music in the Upside-Down à la Stranger Things. And it was rad.

The final piece of the night was the world premiere of Biomes 1.0. This piece combines acoustic instruments (two trombones+ and a bassoon, played by RAGE THORMBONES Weston Olencki & Matt Barbier, and Katherine Young herself, respectively) with electronics and lights. The lights change over time, sometimes slowly and sometimes in the span of a heartbeat, and represent the smaller ecosystems present in the encompassing biome. The instrumentalists improvise within the ecosystem, building the scene with notes, whispers, whistles, and metallic clacks and clangs, further developed by the electronics reacting to the instruments’ paths. Some segments sounded like the soundscape you almost expect: the dark green light briefly feels and sounds like a sleepy rainforest with croaking frogs and rustling vines, and then transforms into something unrecognizable but no less beautiful and comprehensive. The stark white light evokes the sharp chill of the Arctic, but instead of polar bears we find gasping tubas and huffing bassoons. Throughout the piece, the light segregated the biome into ecosystems, but the steady undercurrent of electronic noise and human breath united the parts into the whole. Biomes clocked in at over half an hour long, but I was so enchanted that time nearly stopped.

Katherine Young took LA under her spell with these three incredible pieces, especially Biomes 1.0. She is WasteLAnd’s featured composer this season, so be sure to attend the rest of the concerts to hear more of her and the incredible musicians of the contemporary music scene of LA.

LA Fest at the Phil: A Los Angeles Story of Modernism and Postmodernism

With this week’s kickoff of LA Fest and the LA Phil’s centennial season, the country’s most ambitious orchestra offered a program reflective of the past, as well as an ambitious glance into the future.

Sandwiched between two modern works, a casual and tight-knit performance of Beethoven’s triple concerto (Op. 56) featured Martin Chalifour on violin, Robert deMaine on Cello, and Joanne Pearce Martin on piano. The soloists conversed easily with a Dudamel-led orchestra, and what the performance may have lacked in theatrical sparkle it gained in a focus that highlighted its more intimate chamber elements. It was a fitting pairing with Esa-Pekka Salonen’s LA Variations, which itself constituted a study of clever orchestrations navigated as only a conductor could, but which was particularly notable for the chamber groupings that evolved within the sizable aggregate forces of his instrumentation. Salonen’s work betrays a deep love for romantic orchestral music, but with a modernist vision that sometimes growls, sometimes shimmers in stunning, delicate, intimacy.

The second half was dedicated to the premiere of Andrew Norman’s Sustain, a monumental work of fresh, forward-looking ritual in the deconstruction of sound. While the sound world of Sustain gives a nod to the mid-century orchestra, the form throughout feels daringly original—not necessarily singular in its approach, but in Norman’s ability to immerse in the hypothetical and, more importantly, to trust in his own musical instincts once there. The result is a music that is nostalgic for a time unknown; a remembering from the future where some fiber of our concert experience remains, becomes sacrosanct, while others dissolve away in the solvent of time and relevance. What remains is something primal in its force and refined in its treatment, a reimagining of how our relationship to communal listening might evolve. I, for one, hope I am around to see that day; to reminisce of Sustain and what came after in a newly-antiquated, corrugated steel shipwreck on the corner of 1st and Grand.