ONE THING AFTER ANOTHER: The crowd for the Calder Quartet program at Zipper last Friday overpowered the box-office staff, which was unfortunate and should be looked into; otherwise it was an encouraging and blessed event. A lot of it was student freebie, of course, but even the asking price for the paying crowd – ten bucks – was just right. The crowd was attentive and appreciative; there was a small ripple of applause, quickly shushed, after the first movement of the Mozart Quartet, but none thereafter. I hate to sound stuffy about applauding between movements, or about observance of repeats in classical sonata-form movements (which the Calders don’t do, alas), but these are details that really do enhance great musical designs. The Calders are a splendid ensemble, and their enlightened attitude at the box-office can restore a great chamber-music culture to this city. It might as well be founded on respect for the product. (I understand that the same program played in Orange County for something like $65 a ticket. That’s their problem.)
It was a superb program. The “dissonance” that gives Mozart’s C-major Quartet its name hung menacingly in Zipper’s acoustic excellence; the slow movement was elegance enow. Thomas Adès Piano Quintet engaged the wonderful wit of its composer, and of Gloria Cheng, who obviously holds it dear. Bartók’s Fifth Quartet, not often enough heard around here since the demise of the Sequoia Quartet of fond memory, zoomed ahead with fine energy, and told its final joke most humorously.
That was Friday. On Saturday there was Jacaranda, still up to its ears in celebrating Olivier Messiaen’s 100th birthday – four days short. The crowd was small; Mark Robson had, after all, performed the Vingt Régards at a Piano Spheres concert not that long ago, and that can be measured as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I am still not sure where to go from there. There is a way of experiencing this music that transcends familiar pathways; you give yourself to its language with a realization that it cannot lend itself to normal methods of parsing. It angered me for a time, to be screamed at in an absolutely foreign language. Certain works of Messiaen I still find unbearable; their colors are so bright that they actually hurt my eyes, and I’m looking forward to next week’s cataract surgery for an enhanced acceptance of, say, the “Quartet for the End of Time.”
The piano works project the right colors; Mark Robson sat there, in Santa Monica’s First Pres, for 2-1/2 hours, pulling down clouds of the deepest purple streaked with bright orange, and that was all pretty wonderful. Happy Birthday, Cher Olivier, and Elliott Carter, too.
Sunday: still in church. The four wonderful women of Anonymous4 disbanded a few years ago, but come together now and then, their precious sense of medieval harmonic authenticity intact and enhanced by their explorations into later authenticities – old-timey American hymnology, for one. Saint James Episcopal Church in downtown L.A. was their “Historic Site”this time, sold out to the rafters, naturally. Their program: English carols as far back as the 14th and 15th centuries, Americana from the 18th and 19th.
It’s no easier to describe what comes across from the singing of this marvelous group than it is anything else in the preceding paragraphs: the harmonies of Messiaen’s visions of the infant Christ, the radiant little insipid tune that steals into the last measures of Bartók. All this is part of the force that sustains me as I sit here at an absurdly advanced age and try to write about music. If you don’t know the singing of Anonymous4 there are their discs, and I envy you your discovery. There is nothing quite like it.
Start with the disc called “Gloryland.”
The Monday Evening Concerts push on toward 70 years; all praise to Justin Urcis for maintaining a level of imaginative, creative programming that, in one way or another, crowned the efforts that got the concerts off the ground and onto Peter Yates’ roof in 1939. This week’s program revived an element that came into the MEC’s programming during the time of Stravinsky/Robert Craft influence, a cultivation of interest in the avant-garde dabblings of times other than the very latest. Specifically, Monday’s concert was built around a clutch of 14th-century music by Johannes Ciconia, Guillaume de Machaut and other names less familiar. “Ars Nova” – the New Art – was the watchword; harmonies, rhythms and melodic shapes went through some interesting, manneristic permutations.
Monday’s performers, soprano Phoebe Jevtovic Alexander and a couple of string players, didn’t quite seem at home in the 14th century; too bad the Anonymous weren’t around to show them something about the life force. The program had begun with plenty of force, but also not much life: something called “Sugar 1” by Michael Maierhof. This called for three of our finest locals — cellist Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick, violinist Eric km-Clark and pianist/percussionist Amy Knoles – brutalizing their instruments over a time-span of 15 minutes of which the last 14 made no sense. Later on there was an attractive set by the accordionist Teodoro Anzellotti, ending with the lyric elegance of Luciano Berio’s Sequenza for solo accordion in its Los Angeles premiere, by some distance the evening’s most gratifying music.
Was a ten-minute work, at evening’s end, adequate salvation for the entire program? Since the composer in question was Luciano Berio, and the work worthy of his pen, the question answers itself. While we’re on the subject, however, there is a matter of programming deficiency that I think demands consideration, if the Monday Evening Concerts – rescued as they have been from their near-fatal dismissal by LACMA, their ill-advised previous sponsors – resume their former importance. It’s the matter of representation of music by local, or West-Coast, or current California composers – not the bygones or the classic guys on the next program, but the composers who are doing things here, now. Peter Yates used to be good about that, and so did his successors.
Tuesday was Green Umbrella night and, for I think the second time in maybe 20 years, I was in bed by 8:30. These things happen.
Besides, I needed to be fresh and wide-awake for Vicki. Not that I am in any position to speak with authority on the amazingly enriched art of Vicki Ray and the combinative accomplishments; it just gets to me. What gets to me is the interweave: the insidious inducements of the body-weave and the piano-tone as pitch and rhythm blend into the “body of your dreams-in-the-sky” or, from years before, the ghostly collage with Shaun Naidoo, the “Best Times Coming” number that knocked me out of my seat years ago at a “PianoSpheres” concert and dragged me into an awareness of an oncoming century and what its technology might portend. Something about Vicki, her smile, all that hair, and her all-embracing humor that makes me trust her as she guides me through the technology of where we are today. I sure don’t know most of what happened at that concert of hers on Wednesday night, but I wouldn’t have missed it, even if I had to sleep through the “Green Umbrella” the night before.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AT WEEK’S END: DON ROSENBERG, DOWNGRADED AT THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER FOR HIS CONTINUED NEGATIVSM TOWARD THAT CITY’S ORCHESTRA AND ITS CONDUCTOR, HAS NOW FILED SUIT AGAINST THE PAPER PLUS THE ORCHESTRA’S MANAGEMENT, THEREBY PULLING DOWN WIDESPREAD HUZZAHS FROM THE BELEAGUERED CRITICAL BROTHERHOOD. YES, IT’S BAD NEWS WHEN A PUBLICATION ATTEMPTS TO MANAGE THE CRITICAL VIEWPOINT OF AN EMPLOYED WRITER. (SHALL I TELL YOU SOMEDAY ABOUT THE DAY TIME REWROTE ONE OF MY REVIEWS, TOP TO BOTTOM?) IT’S ALSO BAD NEWS WHEN A CRITIC BECOMES SO BLINKERED INTO AN ATTITUDE THAT HIS ESTIMATIONS BECOME VALUELESS. (SHALL I DIG OUT MY OLD STUFF VS. ENRIQUE JORDÁ IN SAN FRANCISCO? OR BERNHEIMER’S STUFF VS. NEARLY EVERYTHING HERE IN L.A.?) IT WAS SHEER STUPIDITY FOR THE PLAIN DEALER TO KEEP ROSENBERG ON STAFF BUT BAN HIM FROM THE CITY’S ONE WORTHWHILE CULTURAL AMENITY AND – WORSE YET, TO TURN THAT ONE AMENITY OVER TO AN UNWASHED CUB REPORTER. THAT’S THE PAPER TELLING THE WORLD THAT IT DOESN’T KNOW SHIT FROM SHINOLA ABOUT THE CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA AND THAT IS WORTH THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF CLEVELAND BRINGING SUIT AGAINST THE PAPER.
ANYHOW, I THINK CLEVELAND DESERVES A BETTER CONDUCTOR AND A BETTER CRITIC, BUT CLEVELAND BEING CLEVELAND, NEITHER JOB WILL BE EASY TO FILL.
MEANWHILE, WE HAVE BEEN VISITED BY BALTIMORE’S PRIDE, MARIN ALSOP, THE SNAPPY BLONDE PRODUCT OF THE P-R MACHINE WHO AMASSES BROWNIE POINTS BY PROGRAMMING EASY-TO-LOVE CONTEMPORARY MUSIC AT HER CABRILLO FESTIVAL (CHRISTOPHER ROUSE CONCERTOS FOR ORCHESTRA!! UP THE BAZOOTY!!) AND BECOMES FAMOUS FOR BECOMING FAMOUS FOR DIGGING OUT LENNY’S PATHETIC MASS, AND PERFORMING BRAHMS IN INEXPENSIVE NAXOS ALBUMS SUCH THAT MAKE HER A BRAHMS AUTHORITY JUST FOR THE DOING. EVEN IF I ADMIRED THE AFOREMENTIONED BRAHMS’S FIRST SYMPHONY I WOULD HAVE FOUND SATURDAY NIGHT’S PERFORMANCE ROUGH, COLD AND UNLOVELY. PART MAY HAVE COME FROM RESEATING THE ORCHESTRA – CELLOS DOWN FRONT, AS IN THE OLD DAYS, SO THAT MASSED VIOLINS ON THE LEFT WERE SHRILL AND GROSS. PART MAY HAVE COME FROM A GENERALLY POOR SENSE OF BALANCE. NIKOLAJ ZNAIDER DELIVERED A KNOCKOUT BRAHMS VIOLIN CONCERTO, HOWEVER. HE HAD EVEN MADE ME LIKE THE SIBELIUS, AT THE BOWL A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO. SOME VIOLINIST!