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Critic's notebook: Xenakis heads West

November 9, 2010 |  6:00 am

Oresteia
Last winter the work of avant-garde Greek composer Iannis Xenakis bled out of the concert hall and into the Drawing Center in New York. The lovely, learned show, “Iannis Xenakis: Composer Architect Visionary” opened at MOCA Pacific Design Center over the weekend. That is the last time I’ll use the word lovely in relation to this formidable but, of late, bizarrely fashionable composer.

In New York the late composer has become a new music rock star, so says the FM classical music station WQXR.  Thus it was that in Central Park last summer, six percussionists floating on the Boating Lake banged out  Xenakis’ almost frighteningly peculiar but rocking “Persephassa.” His ultra-complex string quartets are played in downtown jazz clubs to eager young audiences.

Xenakis Now the Xenakis express has headed west. In conjunction with the MOCA opening, a version of “Polytope de Persépolis,” an arrestingly powerful electronic music and multimedia spectacle designed for a festival at the historic site in Iran in 1971, was partially re-created at the Los Angele State Historic Park at sundown Saturday night. It attracted a cadre of art-world hipsters as well as the electronica devotees who hang out around the expansive Xenakis bins at Amoeba Music.

Sunday afternoon at sunset, CalArts staged the West Coast premiere of Xenakis’ only opera, “Oresteia,” at the campus’ new outdoor theater The Wild Beast. Like “Persépolis,” the daunting work was presented free to the public. Despite a cool, windy day that threatened rain, picnickers and even some families, flocked to Valencia.

Wild Beast, indeed. Xenakis’ music is so overwhelmingly odd that is nearly indescribable and also pretty much unintelligible. I’d be happy to take suggestions for a major composer in the history of Western music more esoteric.  To continue reading, please click here.

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Baritone Paul Berkolds (in hoodie) as Cassandra in Xenakis' "Oresteia" at CalArts' the Wild Beast Sunday afternoon. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez/Los Angeles Times

Photo: Xenakis in 1974. Credit: Agence France-Presse

Agence France-Presse
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