soiveheard #5

BEST OF ALL…I seriously doubt if any place on earth could provide a more intellectually stimulating and , ultimately satisfying musical  week  than the one we’ve just had here in Los Angeles and its environs. It began out on the edge, with Jacaranda in Santa Monica; it ended with Esa-Pekka’s new Piano Concerto downtown. Midway came Thomas Adès, whose young genius exalts and disturbs us as any true genius should.
Add a couple of days to that week, to allow for Adès’s  earlier program, chamber music to proclaim his private passion for the music of Couperin  (François “le Grand”, not  Louis or the eight other Couperins listed in Grove , although the program never made that clear). A delight in Couperin’s music is not difficult to fathom; it is the passion for the perfect, the exquisite, the unfettered fanciful , the perfect musicalizing of the spirit of an era. Play Couperin at a keyboard, even as poorly as I once did, and you  are transformed. The inventor of that marvelous  Apotheosis of Lully that Adès played with a couple of Philharmonic musicians, a kind of wet dream around the composer Lully returning to life in grand style, is the kind of madman-genius who reaches across centuries and shakes hands with the composer of Powder Her Face.
    A week later Adès had a “Green Umbrella” to himself, with some music we’d heard here before and some we hadn’t. Arcadiana and Living Toys are early works: the one serene and packed with small imaginative darts, the other rather mad, the work perhaps of someone who might later become seduced by Couperin.  The splendid  Calder Quartet was on hand for Arcadiana, in a beautifully nuanced performance. The new work was In Seven Days  a visual on six screens created by Tom’s partner Tal Rosner to a new piano concerto with Nicolas Hodges the soloist, the whole package brought over from its premiere at London’s South Bank. The title refers, of course, to the Creation, and I suppose you could say that the entire work was some sort of intelligent design. I found it mostly disappointing: some attractive joining of music and watery flow for the start and the end, the rest mostly glorified screen-savers set to less than memorable music. Genius is entitled to its stumbles, but reports from Britain had prepared me for a major  multimedia  experience  and this did not happen.
   ON THE EDGE Then to Jacaranda: its fifth season finale in Santa Monica’s attractive First Presbterian, where it will return after opening next season at The Broad Stage a mere nine blocks inland; the midpoint in its wonderfully imaginative celebration of the Messiaen centennial by recreating the whole musical  world around that seminal composer.  Things still in my head from this music-laden event : Debussy’s Sacred and Profane Dances in their original setting for harp (Maria Casale) and five strings, an explosion of rich, lush harmony; the glorious racket of birdsong transformed in Messiaen’s Colors of the Celestial City  with Gloria Cheng, our local treasure, at the piano, and – music remarkable and most unfamiliar, Daniel-Lesur’s Song of Songs for chorus a cappella, the harvest  of darkest, ripest fruit set to music, sung by a small chorus under Grant Gershon to end the season not with a bang but a whisper. 
   MASTERPIECE Salonen’s Piano Concerto should be well-known by now, downloads  of the New York broadcast have been circulating. It’s not just balderdash, however, to imagine another dimension to the work from hearing it at Disney – where, by the way, it is also being recorded this weekend, by DG, along with the rest of this remarkable if curious program. Salonen has spent 16 years working in Disney Hall; it’s impossible not to recognize the sound of that place, deeply embedded in his musical imagery wherever his writing desk may be located.
  The Concerto is a great work. It flings free from bygone imagery even while its opening gambit – the solo breaking loose from the orchestra, struggling upward, is a clear image of the start of the Second Brahms. Piano and orchestra struggle that way on many occasions, usually along more original patterns. Maybe it takes a non-pianist to write for the instrument as forcefully as Salonen does in the second-movement cadenza; it’s a strange, wonderful moment. The endings are all surprises; in retrospect, they are all just right. Aside from the moments when Mr. Brahms pokes in his head – meaning no harm – this is firm, forthright, original music. Even though I own the music – in my computer, on a disc – I’m going twice this weekend.
    Its program-mates are a mixed gathering. So much do I love Stravinsky’s Les Noces, with its wonderful rough edges and its raw, red earthiness, that I can welcome Steve Stucky’s orchestral transliteration of its instrumental substance if it makes the music more often accessible; four pianos can be a tall order. The transcription is well done, and the sounds are still edgy and percussive and the music curdled gorgeously under Salonen’s  leadership. Colin Matthews’ orchestration of four Debussy’s Piano Préludes are, on the other hand, shameful. I won’t write about them because I don’t want to make myself remember them.
   HARRY In September, 1953, I returned from my European year and resumed studies at U.C. Berkeley. The phone rang; it was KPFA. There had been a palace revolt  (one of many); could I hurry on down and become music director?  I filled in the time nicely: a Beethoven symphony here, a Brahms there. Came November  19, and I found myself confronted with a previous commitment  the station had made, beyond comprehension. Some wild-eyed eccentric named Harry Partch, with a collection of musical instruments just in from some other planet, was giving a concert  at International House which KPFA had promised to broadcast live. We ended up running cable down Bancroft Way, a mile at least. Somehow, the damn thing got on the air; don’t ask me how. That was the first-ever complete live performance of Harry’s Plectra and Percussion Dances. The second-ever took place at REDCAT this weekend.
     In the intervening 55 years the world and I have matured to the point where we now understand and deserve Harry Partch. The original instruments have gone into hiding in a refuge in exotic New Jersey, but the heroic John Schneider of KPFK has undertaken to have them copied, or cloned if you will, and they made for a gorgeous interplanetary display on the REDCAT stage. I only missed the huge expanse of the original  glass cloud-chamber bowls; the new ones looked – well – dainty. But a handsome aggregation of CalArts people were on hand to wrest the Partch sound ideal from these splendid toys. Someone needs to make  a DVD,
      Harry’s music? It is not, let’s face it, much. No rhythm beyond a basic pulse, nothing that could pass for melody, just that weird (and sometimes wonderful) pulsation and those oddball harmonies that lead nowhere most charmingly. That is apparently enough to satisfy the Harry-manes, who are numerous and who stem from all the ages,  to sell out the hall – twice this weekend . The sheer  daring  of the man abides, and the devotion of Schneider in bringing this all about—well, it borders on the saintly. . Hail to them all  – and to the ensemble of mostly CalArts folk past and present,, who keep  the memory of Harry alive ,and, perhaps, his music as well.
  BLOG It has gotten so that I can’t walk down my street, or into my local Trader Joe’s, or the Disney Hall lobby, without being besieged with questions about my blog and/or website-to-be, I’ll tell you what I know, what isn’t much. Marvelous friends have taken  care of the setting-up, so all I have to do is to pour my weekly wisdom into some mysterious electronic hole – which is what I always do – and it comes out in a neat format, The people who run the Ojai Festival are throwing a Bloggers’ Party next Thursday, and I’m supposed to be some kind of guest-of-honor. You’ll be at the Festival anyway, won’t you, so look in.
     Anyhow, starting next weekend, you find me by logging on to  and going through a painless registration process where you choose your own password, etc. If there’s a problem, just let me know at and I’ll get Mark or Vanessa or Adam to fix it. Meanwhile, as  I get familiar with the thing, I expect to have all kinds of fun with the blog. I have a huge trove of archive material, including all my Herald-Tribune scrapbooks, and I’ve just learned how to operate my scanner.
 Stay tuned.
ADDENDUM: Sunday’s concert drew a super-large crowd, as expected,  Steve Stucky, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Yefim Bronfman waxed garrulous, charming and informative  on the matter of the Piano Concerto at the pre-concert “UpBeat Live,” which had the ushering staff working hard and in vain, trying to shoo away  the overflow crowd. The Disney Hall management might consider some training in tactful behavior, on the part of its young employees toward ticket-holders who might have paid up to $150  to get  in; words like “please” were in short supply. 
    Stucky’s reworking of Stravinsky’s Les Noces was  marvelous to hear again; fortunately it will be included on the DG disc along with the Piano Concerto and the Matthews orchestration of the Debussy Préludes (which is a waste of time and space). The Concerto works its magic. There is a warm and lovely place:  in the slow movement, two horns interweave to carry a simple, elegant melody over a glistening fabric of string tone, and then the movement whispers to its close. Play this for people who tell you that composers today have lost the power to write beautiful music.
     Play it for the letter-writers in Atlanta, the people who wrote to today’s L.A. Times because Mark Swed had stepped on their fair city and its passion for musical Cream-of-Wheat, nurtured by Robert Spano, who leads that city’s Symphony (of frequent Grammy-winning fame). Let me stick a finger into this bowl of porridge if I may. A couple of months ago I got a call from London’s Gramophone,  a publication I have revered from the day I acquired my first album of 78s (Grieg’s Piano Concerto,  if you care).  Wow! They wanted me to do a Cover Story, and on a topic I knew something about: new music, who were the great composers. I was presented with the list of composers who had already been photographed to go with my story. Steve Reich,  Osvaldo Golijov,  John Adams, Tom Adès  AND Jennifer Higdon, Belle of Atlanta. There’s Atlanta for you: bad composers,     great  P-R. The magazine is out, by the way, the June issue. Every man has his price. I’m in   the July,issue,  too.

This entry was posted in Bookmark the permalink.