Can “new” music and “old” music co-exist? Are the audiences the same, or do mixed programs aim for the intersection of our childhood Venn Diagrams, seeking the similarities? These were the questions considered as I listened to Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, now in their fourth season, who performed a set of concerts on April 28 and 29. Featuring a trio of works by Balch, Hertzberg, and Shostakovich, the ensemble effectively showcased its range and blended the old with the new..
Responding to the Waves by Katherine Balch skittered with restless, high-pitched energy. The west coast premiere highlighted the prowess of solo violinist Nigel Armstrong as he skillfully moved through the program opener. The violin indeed shivered, hummed, and jittered its way through three musical movements as the composer envisioned. The output pleased audiences and garnered applause, with Balch arising for her bow from the seats.
The orchestral Spectre of the Spheres by David Hertzberg was wildly well received and propelled him onstage with a standing ovation. As Hertzberg explained from the stage, the breathy strings invoked the phenomenon of the Northern Lights as inspired by The Auroras of Autumn by Wallace Stevens, punctuated by increasing levels of percussive intensity.
The lion’s share of the program went to Symphony No. 5 by Dmitri Shostakovich. In keeping with Kaleidoscope’s mission, this 20th-century staple was played sans conductor. It was well and ably played, but I wished for the Venn Diagram identification: why was it in the program? Was there a commonality amongst the composers to listen for, perhaps in its aesthetics or the musical conception? Was it the contrasting styles that cleansed the sonic palette and created a balanced show? Is it to put contemporary music on equal footing with an established master? Or is it just a celebration of quality music, regardless of the era?
The whole program was favorably received by an enthusiastic and diverse audience, followed by an outdoor reception. I discovered by conversing with a few patrons that the Shostakovich was the sole reason for attending. Moreover, the earlier half of the program was eschewed in favor of hearing the concert-closer. I inquired as to why that was: familiarity. Here’s hoping that by consistently combining contemporary art with historical masterpieces, Kaleidoscope and its listeners find common ground.
Tonight, soprano Elissa Johnston will join the Lyris Quartet at Monk Space for what’s sure to be a beautiful night of music. In anticipation of the quickly approaching concert, I had the opportunity to interview Lyris Quartet members Alyssa Park (violin), Shalini Vijayan (violin), and Luke Maurer (viola) about the program, thoughts on collaboration, and more. Here’s what they said:
The program contains a set of lyrical, moving, and experimental works from a variety of composers, including Arvo Pärt, Pin Hsin Lin, John Tavener, David Hertzberg, and Evan Beigel. From a programming perspective, how do the pieces relate to each other, and/or how do they contrast?
Perhaps the unity of the concept for this program lies in the reflective and complex writings of each composer. Each of these pieces have their own unique meditative quality which is not to say that they lack power. On the contrary, because of the subtleties and contrasts within each piece, it creates a haunting beauty. We hope this selection of composers and their pieces will help the listener look inward and be able to escape all the chaos around us…to be in the moment and just feel. (Alyssa)
How often do you perform with vocalists? What has the process of collaborating with soprano Elissa Johnston been like?
We’ve had the opportunity to work with vocalists in a number of different settings. As the featured string quartet on Long Beach Opera’s production of David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field several seasons ago, we had the rare chance to support an entire cast of vocalists. That said, when we get the chance to work with a singer in an intimate setting such as this, it is always a special treat. The beauty of the voice is the ideal to which all instrumentalists aspire, in phrasing, tone and timbre. Elissa is always such a joy to work with because she can grasp such a wide array of styles with her captivating voice. Not to mention, that she is a fabulous person and really fun to be around! (Shalini)
Both you and Elissa Johnston are known for performing a wide variety of works, both from the classical canon as well as living composers. Has this repertoire informed your playing in any ways you’d be interested in sharing?
We do have a great foundation of having played many of the celebrated works for quartet together, and it’s always great to revisit pieces from past eras after working on those from this century. We are fortunate to often have the chance to work directly with composers on new music for quartet. Indeed, three of the pieces on Tuesday’s program are by composers right here in Los Angeles! Years of collaboration with many composers definitely has expanded our own individual instrumental technique, and it has built up our ability as a group to listen and react to each other. (Luke)
For more information about the concert or to get tickets, check out Tuesdays at Monk Space.