Category: Critic's Notebook

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: James Gaffigan's Los Angeles Philharmonic debut

March 31, 2012 |  2:45 pm

Mark Swed reviews the Los Angeles Philharmonic debut of James Gaffigan, the latest impressive young conductor on a career fast-track to drop by Walt Disney Concert Hall
For gifted young conductors, who are all but ubiquitous these days, 30 is the new 50. The latest to drop by Walt Disney Concert Hall to make a spirited debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic was 33-year-old James Gaffigan.

Friday's program book noted that this past summer Gaffigan, a former associate conductor of the San Francisco Symphony, became music director of the Lucerne Symphony and principal guest conductor of the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, two fine stopping-off posts for a young conductor on a career fast-track. But he's faster than that. On Tuesday, the Gürzenich Orchestra in Cologne appointed Gaffigan as its principal guest conductor. One of Germany’s most important orchestras, it was once headed by another New Yorker, James Conlon.

Gaffigan is not unlike a young Conlon. His conducting style is direct and communicative. He likes to whip up excitement, and he does it well. He seems attracted to agreeable corners of the 20th century -– he began the program with Respighi's irresistible "Trittico Botticelliano" (Botticelli Triptych), which the L.A. Phil had somehow resisted until now. Gaffigan followed that with an L.A. Phil favorite, the suite from Bartók's "The Miraculous Mandarin." After intermission came a universal favorite -- Grieg's Piano Concerto with André Watts as soloist.

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The L.A. and Brooklyn new music scenes, competition or love-fest?

March 26, 2012 |  5:24 pm

Timothy AndresReviewing 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.

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Theater review: 'Waiting for Godot' at the Mark Taper Forum

March 22, 2012 |  6:31 pm

Godot 1a

"Waiting for Godot,” Samuel Beckett’s existential classic, is held in such high regard by highbrows that average theatergoers may feel intimidated by the play, as though a pop quiz might be awaiting them after the curtain call.

But don’t let the passion of professorial types deter your visit to the Mark Taper Forum, which has mounted a marvelous revival of the work starring two esteemed Beckett interpreters, Los Angeles’ own Alan Mandell as Estragon and Ireland’s celebrated son Barry McGovern as Vladimir.

Under the incisive direction of Michael Arabian, the play is treated not as a symbolist pageant or a philosophical gag machine but as an encounter with two tattered souls whose plot is the master plot of our lives: filling up the time that has been bafflingly granted to us during our stints on planet Earth.

This isn’t the funniest “Godot” I’ve seen, but it’s definitely the most tenderly affecting. Mandell at 84 is as spry as a man half his age, but his pratfalls are those of someone with too much experience to pretend that bruises don’t hurt and beatings are a laugh riot. His comedy echoes down a corridor of years. McGovern, whose musical Irish voice could soothe the rankled hearts of terrorists, has the stern straight-man shtick down pat, but his eyes glisten with empathy even as Vladimir’s patience frays.

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John McLaughlin's paintings meet Mono-ha sculptures

March 21, 2012 |  9:35 am

Mono-ha Nobuo Sekine 'Phase - Mother Earth' 1968 Knight
The recent decision at the Orange County Museum of Art to organize the first full retrospective of paintings by John McLaughlin (1898-1976), which is very good news indeed, happens to coincide with an ambitious exhibition at Blum & Poe chronicling a pivotal revolution in modern Japanese art. Anyone interested in McLaughlin -- among America's great 20th century artists and the first in Southern California -- should make a point of seeing the Culver City gallery's revealing "Requiem for the Sun: The Art of Mono-ha" (to April 14). It was organized by independent curator Mika Yoshitake.

Mono-ha, roughly translated as "School of Things," is hardly known in the United States. But the art, which is mostly sculptural, transforms a profound Japanese aesthetic into a contemporary idiom that was also essential to the Californian's earlier work. McLaughlin lived in Japan, China and India for many years before moving to L.A. in 1946 and starting to paint, and he bought and sold Japanese prints for much of his life.

Mono-ha is characterized by artists making worldly refinements rather than withdrawing into tradition's  cloistered realm. Materials are ordinary or industrial -- dirt, water, stone, paper; steel, lumber, concrete and glass. Nature and industry often collide. For the generation following World War II's devastating blow to national identity, the friction is unsurprising. By the '60s, the stresses of explosive reconstruction were felt.

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The 100 cellos of the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival

March 19, 2012 |  6:23 pm

Rouse Rapturedux

There goes the Disney Hall stage.

Sunday night, as the grand finale of the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, 100 cellists dug their endpins into the expensive stage floor of Walt Disney Concert Hall for a rare performance of Christopher Rouse’s “Rapturedux.”

The tender Alaskan yellow cedar now has a cluster of new pockmarks, and the universe has a remarkable new sound — 400 rich and rapt cello strings vibrating in a great acoustic space. This goes beyond music. Vibration is the essence of nature — everything vibrates. And in the opening F-major chord of “Rapturedux,” it was possible to believe in a palpable music of the spheres.

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Michael Heizer's rock: Levitating the masses

March 12, 2012 |  2:45 pm

"I hope that's not costing us a lot of money," said the man on a bicycle at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and 36th Street in Long Beach, as we waited for the light to change the other day. Down the block, the 340-ton granite boulder that will be the centerpiece of artist Michael Heizer's sculpture "Levitated Mass" sat in the middle of the road, suspended in an industrial sling within a massive, specially built transporter two-thirds the length of a football field. A crowded block-party swirled around it.

This was Day 8 of the circuitous, 11-day journey that began in a Riverside stone quarry and ended, 22 cities later, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. There, over the course of the next few months, the two-story-high rock will be positioned atop a deep, 456-foot-long trench of structurally reinforced concrete running along 6th Street. The trench was mostly completed last fall. When the sculpture is finished in late spring or early summer, a viewer will be able to enter the sloping trench and pass beneath the giant boulder balanced above.

Did eager anticipation for that day spark the flame of public imagination, drawing international media and tens of thousands of visitors during the rock's 105-mile journey? No. But the spectacle is worth considering. It tells us about the distinctive intersection between art and the public today.

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Timothy Potts' past and the Getty's future

March 11, 2012 | 12:07 pm

Kimbell HeadofanAthlete2
The art collection at the J. Paul Getty Museum regularly adds exceptional works, such as an exceedingly rare, early Italian Renaissance portrait drawing -- which might be an even rarer early Renaissance artist's self-portrait drawing -- by Piero del Pollaiuolo (circa 1443–96). The Getty snagged it at a January auction.

Still, the museum's collection has always seemed to lag more than it should, given the Getty's huge financial resources. Turnover in the museum director's office might be part of the reason why.

Three directors have overseen the museum since the Getty Center opened in December 1997, and the plum job has been vacant for the last two years. That will change in September, when Timothy Potts arrives to assume the directorship. Currently in England at Cambridge University's Fitzwilliam Museum, Potts was formerly director of the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas -- a longtime Getty collecting rival. Among his acquisitions there was an exceptional Roman bronze head of an athlete, once mistakenly thought to be part of a Venetian Baroque sculpture.

What might the appointment mean for the future of the Getty's permanent collection? In Sunday Calendar's Art & Books, I'll consider some of the possibilities. Read the Critic's Notebook here.

[Update: An earlier version of this post misstated the location of the Fitzwilliam Museum.]

--Christopher Knight

Photo: Roman, Head of an Athlete (Apoxyomenos), circa 2nd–1st century B.C.; probably after Lysippos (Greek, circa 365–310 B.C.), cast bronze; Credit: Kimbell Art Museum

Rush Limbaugh sculpture is planned for Missouri statehouse

March 6, 2012 | 11:56 am

Rush Limbaugh

When Thomas Hart Benton's murals depicting Missouri state history for the Capitol building in Jefferson City were unveiled in 1937, deep in the dark days of the Great Depression, a clamor arose over the artist's inclusion of corrupt Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast. Within a few years, Pendergast would be locked away in Leavenworth -- something about failure to pay taxes on bribes received --  but Benton was adamant in defending his mural's depiction.

Facts were facts, truth was beauty. Everything in the mural had happened in Missouri history, Benton insisted, and if he had been hired to paint a mural for Illinois he would have included Al Capone.

Pretty much the same defense is now coming from Missouri Republican Steve Tilley, speaker of the House, who recently chose conservative radio shock-jock Rush Limbaugh to be immortalized in a bronze sculpture inside the state Capitol. Limbaugh is currently bleeding advertisers in the wake of a three-day diatribe demeaning a law student as a "slut" and a "prostitute" for her position on women's healthcare. The broadcaster lives in Palm Beach, Fla., but was born in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

“It’s not the 'Hall of Universally Loved Missourians,’” Tilley told the Kansas City Star in defense of his decision, now the subject of a petition drive to halt the move. “It’s the Hall of Famous Missourians.”

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No business like show business: the fate of nonprofit theater in America

February 18, 2012 |  6:00 am

Michael ritchie
The economic crisis has certainly accelerated the ongoing commercialization of nonprofit theater.

But it’s not the only story.

In a Sunday Arts & Books notebook I explore the leadership vacuum that has been exacerbating the situation, examining the way the management side of institutions (such as the Old Globe in San Diego) has wrestled power away from the artistic side and questioning the role of the boards of directors in allowing this to happen.

To read this article, please click here.


More theater reviews from the Los Angeles Times

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—Charles McNulty\charlesmcnulty

[email protected]

Photo: Michael Ritchie of Center Theatre Group.  Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.


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