Category: David Mermelstein

Classical musicians toying with perceptions

January 23, 2010 |  9:30 am


German-Canadian cellist Johannes Moser has a passion for classical outreach, hoping to get those unfamiliar with, or resistant to, classical music to embrace an art form many regard as elitist. He’s done this by visiting schools and even prisons over the years, but his latest foray takes him across America on a six-concert tour with stops that include New York, Detroit and Southern California. Among the dates is a sold-out concert this Sunday at Pepperdine University, where he’ll play everything from Bach to Stockhausen.

His partner in this endeavor is Phyllis Chen, a pianist he met last year, when his representatives and hers thought such a pairing would enhance this project. But Chen, a student of André Watts, is no ordinary pianist – her specialty is performing on a toy piano. Moser, in keeping with the spirit, will be using an electric cello for some of the program.

It was clear he needed a collaborator, Moser recalled by phone from New York recently,  “How much can you do with cello solo for a whole evening? Then someone brought Phyllis to my attention. So I saw some videos on YouTube and was fascinated by how musical and serious she could be on this instrument. She’s a highly trained musician, but she’s chosen this as her voice. And I think that’s pretty brave. Generally, we perform in different environments – I play more traditional venues, and she plays more offbeat ones – so there would have been no place we would have met in the normal course. This tour was the perfect way to bring us together.”

Though their programs are now posted online, they were reluctant to announce the repertory too far in advance, hoping to keep things as spontaneous as possible. “After all, she has a toy piano, and I have an electric cello," said Moser. "These are instruments you want to play around with.”

Click here to read the full story in Sunday's Arts & Book section

— David Mermelstein

Photo: Cellist Moser and toy pianist Chen. Credit: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times

A banner day at Disney Concert Hall, UPDATED

July 28, 2009 |  8:50 pm


What goes up must come down, and that certainly holds true for the huge L.A. Philharmonic banners that flank the Walt Disney Concert Hall that herald the orchestra’s changing of the guard.

These outsize advertisements — made of reinforced vinyl and called building banners in the trade — stand tall at two points along the building’s plain limestone facade, on the corners of Grand Avenue and 2nd Street and at Hope and 1st streets.

Of the two, the vertical Grand Avenue banner, which measures roughly 20 feet wide by 40 feet high, is the more visible and traditionally features just the Philharmonic’s music director, while the horizontal one at Hope and 1st (9 feet high and 47 feet wide) depicts the maestro and the orchestra.

For the last six seasons, the earnest visage of Esa-Pekka Salonen, in various incarnations, gazed into the beyond. But as of early Tuesday morning, the Philharmonic’s longest-serving music director no longer guards the entrance to the orchestra’s administrative offices. His mug has been replaced with that of a more exuberant character, 28-year-old Gustavo Dudamel, who officially becomes the 11th music director of the Philharmonic in September.

The banners are produced by American Fleet and Retail Graphics of Ontario, which specializes in the much smaller light-pole banners that dot the metropolitan area trumpeting various cultural institutions, including the Philharmonic. The firm has created all the banners that have hung at Disney since Frank Gehry’s distinctive symphonic hall opened in October 2003.

Until now, that challenge involved representing Salonen alone — the changing, often blurred, faces of the orchestra members at 1st and Hope notwithstanding. But with the ascent of the much younger, and by all accounts more colorful, Dudamel, a different approach was inevitably required.

The task fell to the Philharmonic’s marketing departments, but there was plenty of input from various quarters, including Dudamel’s representatives. “More or less, it’s a collaborative effort,” said Shana Mathur, the orchestra’s vice president of marketing and communications. “This first Gustavo campaign was particularly of interest to people given the magnitude of the campaign, and there’s a lot of newness around it.”

The most striking element is the fuchsia that dominates the top of the Grand Avenue banner, perhaps suggesting not only Dudamel’s flair on the podium, but also his Latin heritage, which in turn is underscored by the word Pasión (Spanish for passion) in letters even bigger than the conductor’s name. And as if that weren’t enough, there’s the central image: a looming above-the-waist shot of

Dudamel, wearing white tie, his head thrown back, his hands spread wide and his back arched.

Pasión, indeed.

-- David Mermelstein

Photo credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times


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