AS THE PAPERS FOLD, ONE BY ONE, LA CITYBEAT is a small, free, alternative weekly; run by good guys and willing to allot space now and then to my writing– some of it from this blog, some not,  for at least pocket money After several decades of seeing myself on newsprint, it’s good to be back.

SOMETHING OLD.. Gradually, the handsome and comfortable Broad Stage, the new concert hall  on the Santa Monica College campus,  takes its place as an important addition to the cultural landscape. Last week saw the beginning of  the L.A. Chamber Orchestra’s “Westside Connections,” the double meaning of which has to do with establishing a toehold in that new territory and also in offering an interesting concert format connecting music and the spoken word. Bravo to both.
At Thursday’s concert  the words were spoken by Dana Gioia – poet, author, until last month head of the National Endowment for the Arts (of doomed memory, I fear). He read, most beautifully, his own poetry and the writings of others: Romantics, Blake and Browning, those guys. (Will anyone ever run out of the wonderment of “fearful symmetry”?) The chamber music, by Mendelssohn and Schumann, tuned perfectly to the mood of the poetry, even the rich chalumeau of Gioia’s reading. One work, a String Quintet in B flat by Mendelssohn, not early but with the same exuberance that we know from his youthful  Octet, was new to me and wonderful. LACO’s Jeff Kahane sat next to me, and we exchanged delighted glances at this discovery

EVEN OLDER…The titles that survive in Henry Purcell’s The Fairy Queen – “Monkeys’ Dance”, “Dance of the Chinese Man” measured against the work itself, a fanciful paraphrase of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from a century later – arouse curiosity; the deep, rich, Baroque beauty of the music, with its courageous range of dissonance, needs no defense. Martin Haselböck and his Musica Angelica gave us the whole magnificent two hours’ worth, Sunday  at Broad, with the Concord Ensemble – an excellent small chorus – and an outstanding gathering of vocal soloists led by the crystalline soprano of Lisa Saffer, the always-solid bass of Michael Dean but also including a newcomer, Catherine Webster, pressed into service on a couple of days’ notice. Unheralded, out of the ensemble, a lithe and witty young tenor  named Pablo Corá also deserved notice.
You all know Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, and it is a masterpiece no doubt. But there are others, from the short lifetime of this phenomenally talented  Brit with a particular gift toward infusing his music with a powerful theatrical sense. Early in life he absorbed the genius of Monteverdi, and this comes through in all his dramatic works, including Dido. A reasonably well-behaved  Fairy Queen should be within the purview of the Long Beach Opera, monkey dances ‘n’ all.

SOMETHING NEW…Founded in Poland, based in Canada, the Penderecki String Quartet was a frequent visitor to the Monday Evening Concerts during their (sob!) days at LACMA. More’s the pity that their REDCAT concert last Saturday offered only half a program. But that half was mostly George Crumb’s sizzling Black Angels, his Vietnam outcry with gongs, electrified strings, ancient howls – music that has not lost one syllable of its pristine message. I would never want to share a program with Black Angels, and this night at REDCAT wasn’t easy on Veronica Krausas or Arnold Schoenberg, whose music just tagged along (with some nice visuals). Michael Gordon’s Weather, filled the evening’s other half, an unwelcome guest, its raggedy minimalist patterns ground out by a CalArts string ensemble on a flat stage instead of the requisite scaffolding to provide a sense of dimension. It was further flattened by the sad and soggy level of the performance under Mark Menzies.

NEWER YET…The Monday Evening Concerts, aforementioned,  have since their founding (in 1939!) set the worldwide example in maintaining a pace the proper distance ahead of everyone else in musical creativity and consumption. Attempts to clip their wings, as when LACMA kicked them off the premises three years ago, have gone rightly nowhere. I miss their former involvement with West Coast music-making, but their international outlook is brave, and Monday night’s sold-out audience at Zipper Hall crowned the efforts of Justin Urcis and his cohorts.
The music was that of the late Gérard Grisey, spokesman of French spectralisme, on-the-edge experimental stuff, wherein one composes with sounds, not notes, and no longer with sounds but with the differences that separate them; to act on these differences; on their evolution or non-evolution; and the speed of this evolution.
Still here? Monday’s concert involved, first, half an hour of percussion ensemble, ringing the room. Then, a work that began with a solo viola  gradually merging into a small orchestra with, I quote, “three kinds of…growing loudness or tension…analogous to the phases of human respiration…” the whole shebang enduring close to an hour.  Steven Schick’s percussion ensemble, red fish blue fish, banged bravely through the first music; Michel Galante led the Argento Chamber Ensemble, a fearless international ensemble, through the second work, which bore the lovely title Les espaces Acoustiques.
The full house cheered both, to the rafters. Go figure.

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