The L.A. and Brooklyn new music scenes, competition or love-fest?
Reviewing a rousing concert by the Los Angeles new music collective wild Up in November, I expressed pleasure that a faction of young L.A. composers retain the kind of cutting edge that can get smoothed over in other emerging scenes. Brooklyn, N.Y., in particular is a happening arts center where mixology extends not just to cocktails but also to a too easy throwing together of different kinds of music in a way that waters them down.
But there is also a more bracing Brooklyn, and one to which L.A. feels both close to and competitive with. We on the West Coast jealously watch many of our promising composers flock there. We also do our best to be Brooklyn on the Pacific. We’ve got the Dodgers and good Brooklyn bagels. And we play Brooklyn music, as wild Up and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra proved over the weekend.
At Beyond Baroque on Saturday afternoon, wild Up devoted the first half of a program to Brooklyn, the second half to L.A. One of the Brooklyn composers was Timo Andres, whose feisty piano solo, “How Can I Live in Your World of Ideas?” was on the program.
The lines were clear-cut. At Beyond Baroque, the Brooklyn composers in their late 20s and early 30s — Andres, Missy Mazzoli and Andrew Norman — revealed strong personalities with something to say and the professional polish with which to convincingly say it. Their music demonstrated a strong sense of building on classical music tradition, while also moving that tradition into new and hip places. They’re composers who have all been played, already, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
What distinguished the five Angelenos on the wild Up program was that none of their music has been played by the L.A. Phil or LACO. Four were young, and three members of the ensemble. The only piece by an established composer known outside of L.A. was by Art Jarvinen, who died two years ago at 54, but who also epitomized the L.A. composer as outsider.
I liked how one of the wild Up players summed up the L.A. sound as a desire to get inside sound. Comparing noise to sex, he hailed the noise element as the source of musical creation. The L.A. pieces by Odeya Nini , Andrew McIntosh, Christopher Rountree (wild Up’s artistic director) and Andrew Tholl were raw, sometimes ugly, sometimes spiritual, sometimes jarring, sometimes contemplative, sometimes like dance music slowed down or like meditative music sped up.
The pieces were neither slick nor always likable. But I found them addictively listenable. These composers made me feel as though the future of classical music can’t be predicted, which may be the best future of all.
But the Brooklyn/L.A. divide isn't necessarily so radical. Andrew Norman, for instance, represented Brooklyn, but his “Gran Turismo,” which eight wild Up strings played without a conductor and with jittery energy, was written when Norman was a student at USC and it has been conducted by Gustavo Dudamel at an L.A. Phil Green Umbrella concert.
Andres was born in Palo Alto, the hometown of Henry Cowell, the first composer-pianist with a truly global outlook and the founder of the California school in the 1930s. Although he was educated at Yale and is now a proud Brooklynite, Andres is a composer with an easily recognizable strain of California DNA.
“Old Keys” is built out of melodic fragments that reminded me of those in Terry Riley’s “In C.” It is built up from rhythmic layers the way Conlon Nancarrow’s player piano music was (the American composer lived in Mexico City but he was artistically closer to the West Coast than the East). As an orchestra, Andres knows his John Adams.
What is most original about Andres’ music so far is its extraordinary pianistic character. He is a superb pianist with a highly evolved rhythmic sense and a quirky sense of humor. In the Mozart concerto, Andres wrote a new left hand part for the piano solo. He’s not the first to do so, since Mozart never filled in the part. But Andres is the first to do so in a style not Mozart’s, one with boisterous dissonances and oddly misplaced figures.
Playing the concerto, Andres made sparks fly, even when he seemed slightly hemmed in by having to make everything work with Mozart’s original orchestra score. But the supportive LACO music director Jeffrey Kahane brought elegance to the collaboration, and Kahane followed the concerto with an inspired performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40.
Then again, Kahane was as at home with Andres as he famously is with Mozart. Kahane’s son (a composer) also lives in Brooklyn, as do the composer sons of the West Coast’s two most prominent composers, John Adams and Terry Riley.
The kids may leave home, but it’s a big happy family, L.A. and Brooklyn. LACO will perform a work by Gabriel Kahane next month, and Andrew Norman becomes the ensemble's composer in residence next season. Also next season, the L.A. Phil will produce a Brooklyn Festival (which includes a piece by Samuel Adams).
The real battleground is inter-borough. The New York Philharmonic doesn’t touch this stuff.
-- Mark Swed