Itzhak Perlman, Sonny Rollins, Stew and global warming concert to highlight UCLA Live season
The coming UCLA Live season at Royce Hall will feature an array of instrumentalists, singers and speakers whose lifetime honors are unquestioned –- among them Itzhak Perlman, Sonny Rollins, Earl Scruggs, Joan Didion and Kenny Burrell.
Burrell, the jazz guitarist and UCLA music professor, will be the focus of a belated 80th birthday celebration (Nov. 12) in which B.B. King, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lalo Schifrin, UCLA’s jazz and classical orchestras and composers from the music school’s faculty will be among those paying musical tribute. Burrell is the founding director of UCLA’s jazz studies program, launched in 1996.
Also featured in the season announced Thursday is the premiere of an unusual conceptual concert in which the 36 dancers, singers and instrumentalists won’t lack for motivation to perform as if their lives depended on it. That’s the point of the show, “Water is Rising: Music and Dance Amid Climate Change,” in which artists from the Pacific atolls of Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu will perform in their islands' traditional styles while trying to bring attention to the threat that rising sea levels caused by global warming poses to their tiny nations -- and ours (Oct. 15).
The concert is being organized by UCLA's Center for Intercultural Performance and is part of the citywide World Festival of Sacred Music. The Royce Hall performance kicks off a 14-city tour that, according to the center's website, includes shows Oct. 16-17 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, Oct. 18-19 at UC Riverside, Oct. 23-24 at Soka University in Aliso Viejo, Nov. 1-2 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and Nov. 6 at New York University.
Another potential highlight is the first headlining turn in a large hometown concert venue for L.A.-bred rocker Stew (Mark Stewart) and his band the Negro Problem (March 9). Stew and his key bandmate and songwriting partner, Heidi Rodewald (pictured), were longtime scufflers on the local and national club scene before being catapulted to fame via their stage musical, “Passing Strange.” On Broadway the semi-autobiographical show won Stew a 2007 Tony Award for best book, and Spike Lee’s film of the production was broadcast nationally on PBS last year.
The season arises from a booking interregnum of sorts for the venerable performance series. Christopher Waterman, dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture, took over the programming reins following the resignation last year of David Sefton. Faced with declining ticket sales and donations, Waterman and the UCLA Live board decided to economize by canceling the International Theatre Festival component that Sefton had launched and considered indispensable; he resigned rather than continue without it.
The 2011-12 season has 36 announced performances, down from 44 in the 2010-11 season. For 2011-12, dance offerings have been pared from nine performances to four, and speakers from eight to four. At about $8 million, the budget remains the same.
"We've held steady," Waterman said of the two post-recession seasons. "But the level we're holding steady at is not the level we want to get to. I wanted a season that's fiscally responsible, so when Kristy comes in we're in good shape" to begin restoring the series' past scope, including a theater element.
In addition to Rollins (Sept. 22, pictured) and the fete for Burrell, jazz offerings are the trio of pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette (Oct. 26); saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and his quartet, with pianist Geri Allen and her Timeline Band (Feb. 11), and Mingus Dynasty, the seven-piece band that carries forward the legacy of Charles Mingus (March 16).
Also on tap is the Culver City-based Symphonic Jazz Orchestra (Sept. 24), which straddles jazz and classical influences and will play a free Saturday afternoon family concert, with bassist Christian McBride as guest soloist. The program includes the premiere of a new work by keyboardist George Duke, who is the orchestra’s musical co-director.
Besides a recital by Perlman, accompanied by pianist Rohan De Silva (Feb. 16), the classical music series offers the Cleveland-based Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra with French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, who will make his Los Angeles debut in a program dubbed “Handel and Vivaldi Fireworks” (Oct. 28); new music cellist Maya Beiser and the deaf Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie (pictured), performing separately and together (Nov. 11); the Illinois-based Pacifica Quartet, performing two Beethoven quartets and one by Shostakovich (April 11) and an organ recital by Paul Jacobs, who this year became the first organist to win the Grammy for best classical solo instrumental recording (Jan. 12).
In a second workout for Royce Hall’s 81-year-old Skinner pipe organ, Steven Ball accompanies Charlie Chaplin’s rarely-seen 1914 silent feature, “Tillie’s Punctured Romance,” which also stars Marie Dressler and is believed to be the first full-length screen comedy. Ball composed his own score for the film, which was perserved by UCLA archivists (March 10).
Soprano Kathleen Battle will perform an evening of spirituals, backed by a local choir; the concert’s theme is the role music played in sustaining the hopes of slaves during the Civil War, whose sesquicentennial arrived last month (Jan. 21).
Weimar in Westwood would seem to be the concept for two shows by German artists grounded in the Berlin cabaret music of the 1920s and '30s: Max Raabe & Palast Orchester (Feb. 23) and Ute Lemper (pictured), accompanied by the Vogler Quartet and pianist-clarinetist Stefan Malzew in a program entitled “Berlin Nights/Paris Days” (March 29).
The season’s dance performances come from two contemporary companies. Hofesh Schechter Company, based in Great Britain and led by an alumnus of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, will perform “Political Mother,” a piece Schechter has choreographed and scored for a live band of drummers and electric guitarists (Oct. 19-20); New York’s Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet offers two separate programs of new work by four choreographers, including Schechter (April 27-28).
In addition to Stew and the Negro Problem, roots-music and rock offerings are bluegrass banjoist Scruggs, plus a special guest to be announced (Nov. 5); singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams (Jan. 27); rock duo They Might Be Giants playing two shows for very different audiences –- an afternoon family concert in which they’ll wear their hats as children’s composers and performers, followed that evening by the finale of a U.S. tour celebrating their 30th anniversary as alterna-rockers (Jan. 28); Carolina Chocolate Drops, a North Carolina quartet inspired by the old-time black Southern string band tradition (April 6); and soul singer Bettye LaVette and New Orleans funk-R&B band Jon Cleary’s Philthy Phew (April 21).
Making up the series’ world music component are Wu Man (pictured), a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble who plays the pipa, a Chinese stringed instrument (Nov. 19); Afro-jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela (Feb. 10); Israeli singer-songwriter Achinoam Nini (March 24); and Nigerian singer-saxophonist Seun Kuti fronting Egypt 80, the band that backed his father, Fela Kuti (April 20).
Spoken word offerings are science writer Rebecca Skloot, discussing her book on bioethics and genetic research, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (Nov. 1); New York storytelling cooperative the Moth in “Rush: Stories of Ticking Clocks” (March 1); author Joan Didion giving a reading and engaging in a conversation with novelist and UCLA professor Mona Simpson (April 14); and humorist David Sedaris (May 2).
Tickets go on sale Friday at www.uclalive.org, with the lowest top price (before sales charges) $30 for They Might Be Giants’ children’s show, and the highest $95 for Perlman, Jarrett and Rollins. The cheap seats are $20 or $25 for most performances and range from $15 (for Stew) to $35 (for Jarrett and Perlman).
-- Mike Boehm
Photos: UCLA students and dog outside Royce Hall; Heidi Rodewald, left, and Stew; Sonny Rollins; percussionist Evelyn Glennie; pipa player Wu Man. Credits: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times (Royce Hall); Jeff Fasano (Rodewald and Stew); Jamie-James Medina (Rollins); Shadow Distribution (Glennie); Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times (Lemper); Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times (Wu Man).