The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra sounded as good as ever under conductor Peter Oundjian on Sunday evening in Royce Hall at the University of California, Los Angeles. Opening with the world premiere of Sarah Gibson‘s warp & weft served as a reminder of what LACO does so well: careful and consistent programming that feels balanced, approachable, and keenly aware of what repertoire best showcases their style and sound. Gibson herself proved to be a fitting choice for the commission of a new work, tempering the curious vocabulary of modern music with a thoughtful, intentional sense of timing and form. That sense of linear clarity in the work brought out the best in the ensemble, encouraging a commitment by the ensemble to even the most exploratory moments.
Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Andante for Strings had a strong performance, though it may have suffered for the same reasons the Gibson succeeded; its more open approach to time and its compressed musical language sometimes were lost in translation (an issue shared with the original quartet form of this work, and which partially inspired its re-orchestration). Similar to the handling of Pärt’s meditative song on Dausgaard’s program with LACO earlier this season, Andante for Strings was emphasized by its pairing with a bold and formally-defined closer–this time Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Together these two works of the second half strengthened each other and reiterated a savvy attention to programming.
Guest pianist Jonathan Biss joined in a nuanced performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in G Major (K.453). Sensitive and operatic, this concerto reminded the audience how strange and exploratory Mozart can be while remaining utterly polished and grounded by a musical language that is always conversational, always shimmering. Biss’ playing was precise and clear, particularly during the moments of Mozart’s treacherous–if subtle–rhythmic deceptions. Some of the details in the piano were lost in Royce Hall, though the intention of contrasts was clear in Biss’ playing; he might have benefited from some ears in the hall during rehearsal. Overall, though, the performance was well-balanced with the orchestra, and rounded out a program with a little something for everyone.
Oboist Claire Chenette will be sharing her WORK with Tuesdays at Monk Space — specifically, a passion for cultivation, both in the worlds of new music and the fermentation of food. The program explores the often mysterious concepts of invisible processes over time, experimentation, and the complexity of crafting. The upcoming concert on April 17 will feature works by composers Helen Grime, Nicholas Deyoe, Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Toshio Hosokawa, and Marin Marais, along with a selection of her own handcrafted fermented foods. I had the opportunity to ask Claire some questions about the program and the inspiration behind it. Here’s what she had to say:
The concept behind your upcoming concert is fascinating. What interesting relationships do you find between the fermentation of food and creating music?
I’d like to answer this question with the help of fermentation expert Sandor Katz–“we use the same word —culture—to describe the community of bacteria that transform milk into yogurt, as well as the practice of subsistence itself, language, music, art, literature, science, spiritual practices, belief systems, and all that human beings seek to perpetuate”.
For me, fermentation and music are adjacent in the patterns of my daily life. I’ll be bringing an alpine-style cheese that I made last fall when I was brainstorming ideas and ordering music for this show. I’ll also be bringing a batch of sauerkraut that I made last Monday, the same day that I tied the reeds I’ll use on Tuesday. This show is part of Wild Up’s WORK series, and I can’t imagine a better or more real way to share not just my oboe playing, but my work and ways of working.
How did you get started fermenting your own foods, and do you have any favorites? What do you find most interesting about the process?
Some people approach fermentation for its health benefits. Traditionally, it was mostly about preserving the harvest pre-refrigeration. I was drawn to fermentation by my taste buds. The flavors of home ferments are often much more complex and interesting than anything I can find in the grocery store (which is why they go well with the music in this show, which is more complex and interesting than anything I can find on the radio). One of the most unexpectedly simple and delicious ferments I’m bringing is a carrot-ginger relish that I made using way-too-big, overwintered carrots that I found when I was digging up the garden this spring.
The most interesting thing about the fermentation process is that you can’t really control it, which means that what you create is bound to be unexpected. You set up a controlled environment, and then you tend to it while it does its thing. Microbial communities and time are transformative.
The concert at Monk Space features works by composers Helen Grime, Nicholas Deyoe, Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Toshio Hosokawa, and Marin Marais. Can you tell us a bit more about the works on the program? For example, do they relate to each other in any ways you’d like to point out?
Nick Deyoe wrote NCTRN 2 for me in 2015 and this will be my first performance. Virginia Woolf writes “The living poets express a feeling that is actually being made and torn out of us at the moment,” and that is the best phrase I can think of to describe NCTRN 2. I can’t imagine that it will be something anyone is expecting. With the traditions of fermentation on display, I wanted to bring in history and an older sense of innovation with the French Baroque composer Marais. Ruth Crawford’s “Diaphonic Suite” is playful and modernist. Hosokawa’s “Spell Song” is heart-wrenchingly lyrical and expressive. And Helen Grime’s “Arachne” is a perfectly crafted little story about what might befall you if you think you’re the best at weaving. A good reminder to take it easy on the crafting.
Anything else you’d like to share?
All of the ferments I’m bringing will be displayed on ceramic art by Saul Alpert-Abrams. Potter Shannon Garson writes “The privilege of using handmade pots is that they contain the idea of human endeavor, a link with other people, not with factories or corporations.” It is truly a privilege to bring Saul’s pottery to this event. His work will highlight the radical idea that a simple object can be a place where people can meet and share a life-affirming experience of beauty.
For more information about the upcoming concert and to purchase tickets, visit Tuesdays at Monk Space.
Microfest is teaming up with Tuesdays at Monk Space on March 14, featuring composer/performer duo Larry Polansky and Giacomo Fiore on guitars – with a variety of tunings. I had the chance to interview the performers about the program and more. Here are Larry and Giacomo:
The upcoming concert features microtonal works for two guitars by American maverick composers, including Ruth Crawford Seeger, Lou Harrison, James Tenney, Christian Wolff, and two new works that you will be presenting as composer/performers. As a collective, do you find something uniquely American about these works?
Larry Polansky: In the simplest sense — that they’re all American composers — yes. But more importantly, each of these composers, in very different ways, were (are, in Christian’s case) deeply embedded and woven into American culture and American music, particularly the most beautiful parts of each. None of them looked to Europe primarily as a model (though Lou looked often to historic Europe, and Christian’s musical and cultural viewpoint is pan-geographical and pan-linguistic).They emerge organically — like wildflowers — from the terrain American music in the best of all possible ways. Their ideas and music are not in contradistinction or opposition to other musical geographies or histories, but rather operate, as my friend the composer/poet Chris Mann would say, in a mammer that “doesn’t waste one’s own virtuosity”. They are all, in very real ways, related, and also to me personally. Three out of four of them were (are) among my closest friends, colleagues, collaborators, fellow musicians, mentors, and musical influences, and the one who left us before I was born (Ruth Crawford Seeger) has been a huge influence on my life and work.
Giacomo Fiore: Maybe—with the exception of my piece—I would say that all of the pieces share a degree of unpretentiousness. Each of them is clear in musical intent, generally focuses on a single idea or musical conceit, and doesn’t presume to unveil (or communicate!) some kind of cosmic truth. As I see it, those are characteristics of at least one branch of U.S. music—what we may call “American Experimentalism”—and I must say they’re what makes the genre so attractive for me both as a performer and in my research.
Can you talk a bit about your new piece, which you will be performing at Monk Space? What was the compositional process like for this work?
Larry: My piece, #4 (“34 More Chords: Charles Dodge in Putney” ) from the guitar duet 8 Fermentations has a happy history. 8 Fermentations was based on on a sketch for a never realized solo guitar piece for me by my friend and colleague — and wonderful composer — Charles Dodge. The piece is a tribute to his work, but written after he had stopped composing. For many years, Christian Wolff, Charles and I have had a regular lunch date. Some years ago, on a festival honoring Christian, I wrote him a solo guitar piece called 34 Chords: Christian Wolff in Hanover and Royalton, which I’ve played many times (as has Giacomo). 34 Chords… was intended as a gift to him to replace the “lost guitar piece” (now found) that Morton Feldman wrote for Christian. For me, it seemed logical to also write a similar piece for Charles, who had not “lost something” by no longer composing, but had in fact found a new passion (winemaking in Vermont!).
How has your experience as performers affected your work as composers, and vice versa?
Larry: For me, the older I get, the more all activities — most of life — become simply part of being a musician: composing, theorizing, performing, teaching, editing, researching, writing code…. living. For a number of felicitous reasons (including my close musical and personal friendship with Giacomo), I have been writing a lot more for guitar in the last few years. And fortunately for me, younger, gifted players all over the world seem to enjoy playing this material. I am however, very clearly, simply a composer who loves to play guitar (and not vice versa!).
Giacomo: Let me again clarify one thing—I don’t identify as a composer. I’m a performer and a musicologist, maybe I’d go as far as claiming to be a music theorist, but I don’t have the training nor the discipline to claim the title of “composer” (mainly out of respect for those who do have the credentials!). However, when I was asked to write a new piece for this concert, I figured I could use the opportunity to comment on some of the recurring tuning problems, approaches, and solutions that I’ve been exploring in my academic research as well as in my performance career, both as a soloist and in the duo with Larry. “Cognates” Is Just a Fancy Term for “Relatives”—as the title suggests—is not a particularly serious piece. It muses on tuning theory and its terminology (“cognates” are pitches who share the same name, but are tuned differently) and uses a fairly complicated tuning scheme for two guitars to try to show that these differentky-tuned pitches can be traced back to a common ancestor (both guitars tune the lowest string to D, which is the true fundamental of the piece). Nerdy stuff aside, the piece is simply an improvisational framework for Larry and me, referencing some of wacky the things we do in our playing, and serving as a small homage to the way he has inspired me as a musician, mentor, and friend over the past several years.
What do you find most compelling about microtonal music?
Larry: Pitch is so important in music that we are obligated to treat it with the respect it deserves, much as we treat other people with the cognizance of their individual extraordinary potentials, and the freedom and capacity to be what they want to be (not what they are told to be). If we use pitch, we should consider what pitches are, and can be. In that respect, as composers we should do what we can to contribute to the history and present of an unencumbered, ever-fecund world (universe) of musical pitch.
Giacomo: Before I answer that, let me say I’m not a fan of the term—maybe because it reminds me of microbes, or perhaps because it sounds overly fastidious. From a technical standpoint, much of the music Larry and I will play at T@MS is not microtonal—meaning it doesn’t necessarily feature tiny intervals. I prefer to think of it in terms of *tuning* music—music born out of concern about how we relate one note to the other. What I find compelling about that is manifold—I like how it puts me in touch with more rudimental aspects of music-making, forcing me to consider pitch (and its relationship to timbre) in a more attentive way. I also like how it questions commonly-held musical “givens”—that an octave should be divided into twelve equal parts, for example, or that every octave should feature the same pitches. Ultimately, though, I enjoy this music on a sensual and sensory level; I love the way it sounds, how it makes me marvel, and how it opens windows onto unforeseen musical worlds.
Tickets for the March 14 concert are available at http://tuesdaysatmonkspace.org/shows/microfest-presents/<./em>