End of the World?

URBANA, Ohio (AP) — A defendant had a hard time facing the music
Andrew Vactor was facing a $150 fine for playing rap music too loudly on his car stereo in July. But a judge offered to reduce that to $35 if Vactor spent 20 hours listening to classical music by the likes of Bach, Beethoven and Chopin.
Vactor, 24, lasted only about 15 minutes, a probation officer said.
It wasn’t the music, Vactor said, he just needed to be at practice with the rest of the Urbana University basketball team.
”I didn’t have the time to deal with that,” he said. ”I just decided to pay the fine.”
Champaign County Municipal Court Judge Susan Fornof-Lippencott says the idea was to force Vactor to listen to something he might not prefer, just as other people had no choice but to listen to his loud rap music.
”I think a lot of people don’t like to be forced to listen to music,” she said.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage and the Edye Second Space sit in a veritable ocean of parking space, and that is one of many blessings. Saturday night saw the official opening – the Broad Stage for a concert, the Second Space to welcome the freeloaders for a splendid Chinese feed afterwards. The concert was a vocal event: Frederica von Stade and Kristin Clayton with Jake Heggie at the piano in a program that included the local premiere of Heggie’s solo cantata “At the Statue of Venus” and an assortment of songs, arias and duets. Dustin Hoffman, who is on the Broad Stage Advisory Board, served as official greeter. “Broad,” by the way, rhymes with “road.”
The Broad Stage – the hall itself, that is – seats 499 with a single balcony and a few side boxes. There is no center aisle, but the space between rows isn’t as cramped as at Disney. The hall is handsome; the seats are comfortable; the johns are accessible. Everyone was comparing notes with everyone else about acoustics, but there’s nothing to be said as yet on the evidence of a concert with just singers and piano. Kristin Clayton tended to swallow her words in the Heggie piece, but that was no more the fault of acoustics than of poor vocal technique and a clumsy, verbose text often drowned by the piano. I’ll get back to that in a moment.
Much has been made of the fact that the Broad affords a proper concert venue to save us West Side audiences the ardors of the downtown commute on I-10. and that is indeed a boon. (There is also UCLA’s Royce Hall, three times as large and with a charge for parking.) The Broad is the right size and shape to develop as a center for small-audience events: new music, very old music. Next week Jacaranda plays there (on Friday, please note, not the usual Saturday); Musica Angelica, our excellent local early-music band,  plays there the following week. I would guess that both these groups have predominantly West-Side followings; they should feel at home in the new room.
By the same token, Saturday’s concert fell somewhat short of the level I would hope to encounter  in these premises. “Flicka” von Stade is a beloved, veteran opera personality whom I have adored in some instances – Cherubino at the Met, Cherubin in Santa Fe – and deplored in others – Gerolstein at the L.A. Opera. She gives generously of herself, as in a similar program recently for the Long Beach Opera. She has made Jake Heggie something of a house composer far beyond his merits, and has carried his “Dead Man Walking” far on her slender shoulders. But it is sad that she allows a paying audience to witness her vocal decline, and sadder still when she employs her personal prestige to bring this singularly untalented note-spinner to the attention of audiences he does not deserve.  “At the Statue of Venus” is a text by  Terrence McNally, a blind-date number dispatching in far too many words what Barbara Cook did so beautifully in her “Will He Like Me?”number from “She Loves Me.” Ms. Clayton’s credentials are impressive, although rooted in the past; the matter at hand is that the music is dull, was dully sung, and that it was no way to begin life in the new hall.

It’s common practice to deplore Nicholas Rubinstein for his savage attack on the hapless Tchaikovsky, when the 34-year-old composer played him his First Piano Concerto – in hopes that the older pianist would take the work into the repertory. Sometimes it occurs to me, however, that old Nicholas may have had a point or two – and I say this without for a moment denying that I usually have a wonderful time every time I hear the work, and I had a particularly fine time when Yefim Bronfman played it with Salonen and the Philharmonic at Disney Hall last week. This Concerto, in fact, may well stand as the world’s greatest piece of bad music. REALLY bad, I mean: utterly irrational in organization, painfully distended in melodic shape, illogical on different grounds in each of its three movements.
More to the point, the Concerto tends to improve under mistreatment. This time, for example, I heard no coordination between the clean, rational orchestral playing under Salonen and Bronfman’s brutal  hammering. Not since the classic Horowitz/Toscanini recording have I heard those climactic octaves in the last movement so clobbered out of recognition. Whatever musical beauty abides in this fascinating grotesque of a virtuoso showcase – and I am not prepared to argue, or to care about, the possible presence of such beauty – I heard no such element in Thursday’s performance – the first of four last week. Did it matter? Not for a moment!
Yes, I love this Concerto, for what it is. There are small, thrilling episodes: the final few chords of the slow movement, for example, and those octaves in the finale. Salonen, I am told, had not conducted the music before in his 17 years here in Los Angeles, or anywhere else. Why should he? He and Bronfman were a team made in Heaven – for Salonen’s own Concerto at the end of last season, and now for this.
Stravinsky’s “Firebird” – all of it – ended the program I can live without the first half-hour (of the total 45 minutes), but this time the very opening — the subliminal, dark groan almost out of hearing range – was something memorable in itself: virtuoso orchestra, virtuoso hall.

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