Category: Classical Music

Music review: New Les Surprises Baroques in Santa Monica

April 16, 2012 |  3:04 pm

We could use more surprises in a concert scene so often encased in ritual and formula. So with that in mind, a new, roving period-performance group with a flexible roster of musicians is calling itself Les Surprises Baroques.

Getting Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock to serve as artistic director is a good first step. Now they have to build an audience, which from the looks of the pews in Santa Monica’s First Presbyterian Church on Sunday afternoon is currently in the embryonic stage.

This program, the group’s second, was labeled “Curiose Inventioni,” a dig through some cobwebbed corners of secular 17th century Italian repertoire. There were 21 pieces, none lasting more than a few minutes, some linked together so that it was sometimes hard to tell where one left off and the next began.  

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'Silent Night' by Kevin Puts wins Pulitzer for music

April 16, 2012 |  2:25 pm

  "Silent Night"
"Silent Night," an opera by Kevin Puts that dramatizes a miraculous ceasefire during World War I, has won the Pulitzer Prize for music. The opera, with a libretto by Mark Campbell, received its world-premiere production at Minnesota Opera in November.

Puts' opera is adapted from the 2005 movie "Joyeux Noël," which was nominated for an Academy Award for foreign-language film. Like the movie, the opera depicts an unexpected truce negotiated by Scottish, French and German officers on Christmas Eve. The movie was written and directed by Christian Carion.

"Silent Night" won the Pulitzer over finalists "Death and the Powers," an opera by Tod Machover, and "The Companion Guide to Rome," a piece for string trio by Andrew Norman that evokes nine Roman churches. Norman is an alumnus of the University of Southern California and has been named a resident composer for the L.A. Chamber Orchestra.

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Titanic violinist Wallace Hartley remembered

April 16, 2012 |  8:00 am


Sunday's centenary of the sinking of the Titanic brought an outpouring of tributes and remembrance. The 1912 tragedy claimed the lives of more than 1,500 passengers and crew who drowned or died in the icy waters of the Atlantic. Among the casualties was a brave violinist named Wallace Hartley.

Leading a small band of musicians, Hartley kept performing for passengers as the Titanic gradually sank into the ocean. The instrumental ensemble is believed to have played hymns, including "Nearer, My God, To Thee." Hartley and his fellow musicians perished with the ship.

On Sunday, a concert was held in Hartley's hometown of Colne, England, to pay tribute to the violinist. The BBC News reported that the concert featured a performance by Jonathan Evans-Jones, who played Hartley in the 1997 movie "Titanic," directed by James Cameron.

Hartley was only 33 years old when the Titanic sank. Certain accounts say that the violinist and his band members performed in the first-class lounge as the ship was going down, and then later performed outside on deck.

Hartley's body was eventually recovered and buried in Colne.

Memorial services for the Titanic were held in a number of places on Sunday, including the Atlantic site of the sinking, aboard the cruise ship MS Balmoral; in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the ship was built; and in Southampton, England, where the ship departed for its ill-fated voyage.


Denver museum shines light on Titanic survivor Molly Brown

Music review: Herbert Blomstedt leads Beethoven's Missa Solemnis

Music review: KarmetiK Machine Orchestra at REDCAT

-- David Ng

Photo: Titanic leaving Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912. Credit: Apic / Getty Images

Music review: Herbert Blomstedt leads Beethoven's Missa Solemnis

April 15, 2012 |  4:01 pm

Herbert Blomstedt
That incomparable Beethovenian Wilhelm Furtwängler thought the Missa Solemnis to be Beethoven’s greatest work. Too great, even, to perform. He stopped conducting it at age 44. But maybe if Furtwängler, who died in 1954 at 68, had lived on, he might have come to terms with this visionary epic mass. A spiritually enthralling call for peace, the Missa Solemnis is a habitable country for old men.

The former San Francisco Symphony music director Herbert Blomstedt, who turns 85 in July, led a superbly taut, vital performance of the Missa Solemnis with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Master Chorale on Friday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall. That entitles him to a platinum card in the prestigious Solemnis Seniors Club.

Other members include an 85-year-old Colin Davis, who conducted Beethoven’s mass in New York this season to glorious reviews. One week younger than Blomstedt, Kurt Masur remains a member in good standing despite a recent dustup in Boston. He withdrew from the Boston Symphony’s Missa Solemnis last month, the orchestra said, because of his frail condition. Masur immediately let it be known that he is fit enough to conduct elsewhere. Toscanini’s vigorous 1953 recording of the Missa Solemnis was conducted by an 86-year-old.

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Music review: KarmetiK Machine Orchestra at REDCAT

April 13, 2012 |  3:20 pm

KarmetiK SamsaraWe build robots to do things we don’t want to do, say vacuum the rug or drop bombs. Business and government love robots because machines master the universe. Machines always win.

Young artists, however, increasingly turn to machines simply because the machines are cool, and because young artists all have MacBooks, which make the artists feel like masters of the universe. The KarmetiK Machine Orchestra, a CalArts invention on display at REDCAT Thursday night, is very cool, very MacBookish and very much interested in mastering the universe. We used to call that cultural imperialism, but that was before a techno-beat became a universal force for dulling cultural distinctions.

The show, “Samsara” (which repeats Friday), however, was meant to be high-mindedly and ambitiously interdisciplinary. Fine guest artists were contributors. Ancient Indian tradition — dance, music and storytelling — bumped into high, medium-high and low technology.

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Music review: Pacifica Quartet at UCLA's Royce Hall

April 12, 2012 | 11:23 am

Pacifica Quartet
The Pacifica Quartet likes to think big -- and in the chamber music field, that often means doing cycles. 

Some adventurous listeners remember the evening at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall in 2003 when the Pacifica served up all five of Elliott Carter’s notoriously knotty string quartets in one mighty scoop; after that, you figured that from then on, everything else would be a piece of cake for them.  There were more cycles to come -- most recently, two volumes of an emerging CD project on the Cedille label, “The Soviet Experience,” that will link all 15 Shostakovich quartets with four by his Soviet colleagues.

However, the Pacifica did not have omnivorous feats in mind when it visited UCLA’s Royce Hall on  Wednesday night -- just Beethoven’s Quartets Nos. 4 and 8, and Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 9, plus the spiky, humorous, Allegretto pizzicato movement from Bartók’s Quartet No. 4 as an encore. 

Live, the Pacifica sacrifices some of the smooth, virtually immaculate surface that it displays on its recordings. But in return, there was a big gain in dramatic tension and fire, with all four players listening intently to one another. 

Though it is one of Beethoven’s early Op. 18 quartets, the No. 4 could take the Pacifica’s emphatically-accented, forwardly-pushed approach more in stride than some of the others in Op. 18 might have.  The Beethoven Quartet No. 8 at the end of the night was even better -- from the first movement’s big symphonic chords to the perfectly sprung rhythms and fast tempos in the third and fourth movements. 

On the Pacifica’s Shostakovich CDs, the group usually stakes a middle ground between the Emerson Quartet’s fierceness and the Fitzwilliam Quartet’s warmth.  Live in the Quartet No. 9, the Pacifica leaned more toward the former approach, identifying with the wildness in the third and fifth movements, bearing down hard toward the conclusion with terrific momentum.


Influences: Violinist Leila Josefowicz

 Adventures around town with the noble and profound cello

Music review: Cage, Stockhausen and Bettison under Green Umbrella

-- Richard S. Ginell

Photo: The Pacifica Quartet, from left, Sibbi Bernhardsson, Brandon Vamos, Masumi Per Rostad and Simin Ganatra. Credit: Anthony Parmelee.

Arts on TV: Julius Shulman; Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble

April 12, 2012 |  6:00 am

Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble Movie: “Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman” (2008) 6 and 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Sundance: Narrated by Dustin Hoffman. Photographer Julius Shulman helps bring architecture's Modernist movement to the forefront and collaborates with architect Richard Neutra and others on many important projects.

“SoCal Insider With Rick Reiff” 1 p.m. Thursday; 7 p.m. Friday; 11:30 a.m. Sunday, KOCE; noon Wednesday, KOCE: Opera legend Placido Domingo. 

“Exploring the Arts With Gloria Greer” 6:30 p.m. Thursday, KVCR: Jackie Autry's Private Collection.

“Open Call” 9 p.m. Thursday, KCET: Colburn School Orchestra. Hosted by mezzo-soprano opera singer Suzanna Guzman.

“Orchestra Kids 2011” 10:30 p.m. Thursday, KCET: Behind the scenes with the All Schools Elementary Honor Orchestra as it prepares for its annual concert in renowned Schoenberg Concert Hall in UCLA.

“SoCal Connected” 9 p.m. Friday; 6 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, KCET: Herbie Hancock: All That's Jazz: Correspondent Michael Okwu shares what it was like to spend time with jazz artist Herbie Hancock.

Santa Monica On Stage8 p.m. Friday, City TV Channel 16, Santa Monica: Barbara Bain ("Why We Have A Body"). Writer Rex Pickett and director Amelia Mulkey ("Sideways, The Play").

“Art in the Twenty-First Century” 10 p.m. Friday, KOCE: Change: Artists Ai Weiwei, El Anatsui and Catherine Opie. (Season Premiere)

“Dudu Fisher: In Concert From Israel” 1:30 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday; 8 p.m. Wednesday, KCET: Dudu Fisher performs Broadway tunes and Israeli songs. 

“Laguna Beach Live Presents: Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble With Calder Quartet” 11 p.m. Saturday, KOCE: The Jazz Chamber Ensemble is a synthesis of jazz and classical chamber music.

“My Generation” 10 p.m. Monday, KLCS: Opera singer Denyce Graves; Cheech Marin.

“Independent Lens” 11 p.m. Sunday, KOCE: When the Drum Is Beating: Haiti's past and present is explored through the music of the country's oldest and best-known band.

“Grand Canyon Serenade” 5 a.m. Tuesday, KVCR: A visual tour of the Grand Canyon is set to classical music by Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Dvorak.

-- Compiled by Ed Stockly

Photo: Billy Childs. Credit: Javiera Estrada 

Music review: Cage, Stockhausen and Bettison under Green Umbrella

April 11, 2012 |  2:58 pm

Nick Stoup

Once, during a public conversation at UC San Diego between the video artist Nam June Paik and John Cage, Paik recalled having asked Cage why he wrote music. “Because I promised Schönberg I would,” had been the answer from the composer who had studied with Schönberg at USC and UCLA. And why, Paik had also asked, did Cage continue to write music? “Because,” Paik recalled Cage saying, “it is important to continue meaningless activity.”

“I said that?” a surprised Cage wondered aloud onstage, but laughed engagingly. Who’s in control, and why, is perhaps the most controversial question that’s been posed by the international avant-garde in music since World War II. And that was the principal question of a fascinating, if uneven, Green Umbrella Concert on Tuesday night by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

The centerpiece was Cage’s Concerto for Prepared Piano, written in 1951 and the first major work in the Western canon in which a composer began to give up musical control. It was surrounded by works from this century. Stockhausen’s “Fünf Stenzeichen” (Five Star Signs), which began the program, was composed by the biggest ego of European avant-garde, a Prospero who pulled all the strings. Oscar Bettison’s “Livre des Sauvages” (Book of Savages) was commissioned for the program by a young composer who delights in crazy percussion instruments with minds of their own.

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Adventures around town with the noble and profound cello

April 11, 2012 | 10:00 am

Antonio MostacciAlthough the cello stuffily has been called the instrument noblest and most profound in tone of the violin family, it has an incorrigible habit of showing up in the darnedest places. And noble and profound a multitude of notable cellists were during the recent 10-day festival in the formal settings of USC, Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Colburn School. But the festival — male-dominated, East Coast- and Euro-centric — paid little attention to what makes the local unconventional cello scene meaningful.

That is not to say that the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival last month didn’t do its considerable part to raise local cello consciousness, even winning a proclamation from the city of Los Angeles. Soloists, students and press came from around the country and the world for concerts and master classes that went on exhaustively, day and night, and covered a wide range of repertory.

But cello adventures are elsewhere. For instance, the opportunity to hear the extraordinary Rohan de Saram play a solo cello movement from Lou Harrison’s “Rhymes With Silver” in the uniquely resonant straw bale house the great California composer built for himself in Joshua Tree is as authentic a West Coast cello experience as exists. But to do so would have meant forgoing the Piatigorsky finale.

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Music review: The L.A. Phil plays John Adams and Philip Glass

April 6, 2012 |  2:30 pm

John Adams
Philip Glass’ big, new Ninth Symphony –- 52 minutes, written for a large, powerhouse orchestra –- is late Glass at his most momentous, a significant symphony by America’s most significant symphonist. Chalk up another one for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which was a co-commissioner of the Ninth and which gave the West Coast premiere at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Thursday night. John Adams conducted.

That bit about Glass’ status as a contemporary American composer of symphonies is fact, not opinion.
But despite Glass’ prominence and his large body of symphonic work, that fact is not well known (or, at least, well acknowledged) among American orchestras.

Want to hear another Glass symphony in the next few months? Try Pforzheim, Germany (the Eighth), or Rotterdam, the Netherlands (the Fourth). As if the South of France didn’t already have enough summer attractions, Aix-en-Province is where Glass’ Tenth Symphony will have its world premiere in August.
On the other hand, in the 20 years Glass has been writing symphonies, very few American orchestras have ever performed one.

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