Category: Disney Concert Hall

Jazz review: Billy Childs and Kronos Quartet at Walt Disney Hall

March 12, 2012 |  2:04 pm

Niceness met vision in an ambitious collision of jazz and neoclassical at Disney Hall on Sunday night. Niceness won.

Although the Grammy-winning talents of Billy Childs, Kronos Quartet and Bill Frisell packed potential for chemistry, the energies tended to dissipate.

The intensity focused mid-evening with the pointy-booted Kronos, whose stand-alone segment brought industrial aspiration to the agitated "Aheym (Homeward)," by Bryce Dessner of the art-pop group the National.

The four bows stroked and slapped with familial elasticity, bringing out the composition's snap-back power and hypnotic magnetism. Frank Gehry's airy modern hall was built for this.

Childs' all-star quartet glowed with a Californian spirituality, the pianist's "Aaron's Song" and "Hope in the Face of Despair" owing as much to film music as to jazz. Despite the klezmer plaint of Steve Wilson's saxophones, the latter piece would have seemed little more than pondering puzzlement if Childs hadn't credited its inspiration to "Maus," Art Spiegelman's dark comix biography of his Auschwitz-survivor father.

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Music review: Jeffrey Kahane recital at Walt Disney Concert Hall

March 8, 2012 | 12:32 pm

Jeffrey Kahane
Pianist-conductor Jeffrey Kahane’s combination recital and chamber music concert on Wednesday at Walt Disney Concert Hall took a delightful detour when he performed his son Gabriel’s “Django: Tiny Variations on a Big Dog.”

Commissioned by Kahane père in 2008, the score was inspired by the family dog, named after the great jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Programmed between major works by Bach and Chopin, this rigorously inventive six-minute set of variations remarkably held its own.

Sounding hoarse from hay fever, Kahane told the Disney Hall audience it took him months to learn his son’s breakneck perpetual motion variation, “Mechanized Django.” He dazzlingly conveyed Django’s different moods, including a ragtime section evoking goofy canine charm.

Since becoming music director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra in 1997, Kahane hasn’t been seen much in recital. But he began his career as a pianist, winning a gold medal at the Arthur Rubinstein competition in 1983. Kahane opened with Bach’s French Suite No. 5 (BWV 816), performed with expressive warmth and fleet-fingered high spirits. His occasional ornamentations gave due consideration to Baroque performance practices without becoming precious, and he crisply articulated the ebullient concluding Gigue.

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Music review: Pablo Heras-Casado, Martin Chalifour and L.A. Phil

March 4, 2012 | 12:15 pm


The career of Pablo Heras-Casado has been rocketing along as of late –- a debut with the Berlin Philharmonic last October, landing an American post as principal conductor of New York’s Orchestra of St. Luke’s in December, and so forth. He has a lot on his plate -– chamber music, early music, opera, standard symphonic repertoire -– yet seems to be most celebrated for his work with new music.

So in his return to Walt Disney Concert Hall on Saturday afternoon, Heras-Casado offered something new -– the West Coast premiere of a violin concerto by James Matheson, director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Composer Fellowship Program –- following a rather blunt, lean-and-mean rendition of Beethoven’s “Egmont” Overture with the orchestra.  

The Matheson concerto was first performed in December by Esa-Pekka Salonen (who recently wrote an impressive violin concerto himself) and the Chicago Symphony. It must be a coincidence that both Matheson’s and Salonen’s concertos open in a similar way, with perpetual-motion violin right from the starting gate. 

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Music review: Two Louis Andriessen premieres at Green Umbrella

February 29, 2012 |  2:40 pm

Cristina Zavalloni
When asked at a pre-concert talk Tuesday whether the two remarkable soloists in the evening’s U.S. premieres at Walt Disney Concert Hall of two fresh (in both senses of the term) works were his muses, Louis Andriessen dismissed the term as being a bit bourgeois. Of all the unconventional risks the Los Angeles Philharmonic has taken in recent years, embracing this profoundly significant anti-bourgeois 72-year-old Dutch composer –- who doesn’t have much truck with orchestras, nor they with him –- has been perhaps the most daring.

There is no question that violinist Monica Germino and the soprano Cristina Zavalloni were muses for a curious violin concerto, “La Girò,” and the theatrical “Anaïs Nin.” The dramatic as well as musical talents of these women clearly motivated Andriessen’s shockingly fanciful scores, which received riveting U.S. premieres Tuesday at a Green Umbrella concert by the L.A. Phil New Music Group. Each work, moreover, is about a muse.

PHOTOS: Green Umbrella concerts

But bourgeois the pieces are not. Instead, Andriessen reveals how meaningful musery, at least among artists who flout convention in search of insight, all but invites perversion. The violin concerto is a sad, funny and sharp chronicle of an older composer’s obsession with a young singer, Anna Girò. The inspiration for “Anaïs Nin” was a frank diarist’s erotically explicit delight in her incestuous relationship with her father, the Cuban-Catalan composer Joaquin Nin. Andriessen pulls no punches.

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Music review: Charles Dutoit conducts L.A. Phil at Disney Hall

February 24, 2012 |  1:08 pm

Charles DutoitThe Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit has a reputation for working fast and knowing what he wants. He was exactly what the Los Angeles Philharmonic needed on Thursday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, where he led them in a program of Stravinsky, Debussy and Prokofiev. It was the orchestra’s first concert on its home stage since repeating its recent Mahler symphony cycle in Caracas, Venezuela, with music director Gustavo Dudamel.

Returning Sunday from a trip partly marred by bouts of food poisoning, head colds and flu, the musicians had Monday and Tuesday off to recover from jet lag, and then went into a five-hour double rehearsal on Wednesday.

Before the scheduled program began, Philharmonic president Deborah Borda announced that Lorin Levee, a 36-year veteran of the orchestra and its principal clarinetist since 1981, died on Wednesday. In his honor, Dutoit and the orchestra gave a lovingly shaped account of Ravel’s “The Enchanted Garden,” the moving finale to the ballet “Mother Goose.”

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Music review: Organist Olivier Latry at Walt Disney Concert Hall

February 20, 2012 |  1:38 pm

Olivier Lantry
In his short but powerful organ recital on Sunday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Olivier Latry, the organist of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, performed solo works by Anton Heiller and Jehan Alain. But the big event was Latry’s pipe organ version of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” for four hands and four feet, where he was joined by Korean organist Shin-Young Lee.

Latry opened with Heiller’s brief Tanz-Toccata, composed in 1970, and quickly demonstrated a breathtaking mastery of the Disney Hall instrument by shaping the score’s restlessly shifting meters and thick harmonies into a compelling dramatic whole. In Alain’s “Three Dances” -– “Joys,” “Mournings” and “Battles” -- Latry contrasted gentle and more emotionally conflicted passages to create a sense of epic adventure in just over 20 minutes.

Alain’s dances were accessibly, if strangely, tonal, employing medieval plainchant style to shattering effect. Weeks before the Nazi invasion of France, Alain mailed his “Three Dances” to a friend. He died in a firefight in 1940 at the age of 29.

After intermission, Latry and Lee gave a high-voltage rendition of “Rite of Spring,” which was adapted by him from the composer's own original piano-duo version. Latry added extra elements unavailable to pianists. For example, Lee’s virtuoso pedal trills in the lower registers were used to brilliant effect.

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Jazz review: Chucho Valdes, Poncho Sanchez and Terence Blanchard

February 17, 2012 | 11:55 am

Chucho Valdes
A deeply soulful and often underrated genre, Latin jazz has been the focus of a controversy lately. When the Recording Academy decided to restructure the Grammy Awards this year and in the process killed the Latin jazz category, the decision was met with wrath by some of the most influential musicians in the field. Latin jazz still matters, they asserted. It deserves to be cherished.

The timing, then, couldn’t have been better for Thursday’s performance by veteran Cuban pianist Chucho Valdés and his Afro-Cuban Messengers at Walt Disney Concert Hall, just days after the Grammy ceremony.

Wonderfully unpredictable, luminous and mercurial, the one-hour set left the capacity audience pining for more. The conclusion was inevitable: So this is what we’d be missing if Latin jazz was silenced.

Valdés is the son of Bebo Valdés, perhaps the most exquisite pianist and bandleader from the golden era of Cuban music. During the ’70s, Chucho stepped boldly into the future by founding Irakere -- the now-mythical group that pioneered the fusion of Cuban folklore, jazz and rock.

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Music review: Los Angeles Master Chorale at Disney Concert Hall

February 13, 2012 |  2:11 pm

Now and then, you may hear a Bruckner symphony at Walt Disney Concert Hall, but did any of Bruckner’s big choral works ever receive a performance there?  The answer is: Not until Sunday night, when Grant Gershon and the Los Angeles Master Chorale took on Bruckner’s somewhat peculiar Mass No. 2 in E minor.

And what kind of a sensibility would program a Bruckner mass alongside a piece by Stravinsky?  An iconoclastic one, yes, but also a practical one, since both the Bruckner mass and to a large extent Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms” are powered and colored by wind and brass ensembles.

While Bruckner’s First and Third Masses bear the distinct signatures of the symphonies all over the place, you have to listen hard to find streaks of his sound in the Second Mass, with its backing by a small wind band and throwbacks to the choral styles of the Renaissance. 

The piece sounds as if it was tailored to the acoustics of a cathedral; some of the wind timbres even seem to imitate certain stops on a pipe organ.  A cathedral Disney Hall is not, yet Gershon’s fast tempos were appropriate for this less-reverberant space, as was the Master Chorale’s fresh, bright, plush, not-at-all-ascetic singing.

The Master Chorale is no stranger to “Symphony of Psalms” -– this was the piece the chorale memorably sang at Esa-Pekka Salonen’s farewell concert here in 2009 -– and Gershon carried out another inventive programming scheme by prefacing Stravinsky with a brief, luminous a cappella Bruckner motet, also set to a psalm text, “Os justi.”

Yet this performance (of the Stravinsky) could not quite generate the cool yet paradoxically emotional fervor of the sequence of magically heartfelt, dense chords near the close of Part 3. Gershon tried, slowing the tempo down as marked to let the passage breathe, but it didn’t work.


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-– Richard S. Ginell

2010 photo of Grant Gershon and the Master Chorale. Credit: Lee Salem Photography


Music review: Leif Ove Andsnes recital at Walt Disney Concert Hall

February 9, 2012 |  1:07 pm

The Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes gives good taste a great name. His playing displays no vanity. In a program of Haydn, Bartók, Debussy and Chopin at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Wednesday, Andsnes combined aspects of the introvert and extrovert, the Romantic and Classicist, while remaining fully at the service of each composer’s musical style.

In the opener, Haydn’s moody Sonata in C minor, the pianist made the score’s irregular phrasing sound natural and inevitable. His articulation and dynamic shadings in the opening movement were finely judged, and his warm, rounded tone in the slow movement and finale captivated.

Andsnes employed a more resonant and textured sound for Bartok’s rhythmically engaging Suite for Piano, Opus 14, his varied attacks placing the work’s playfulness, drama and mystery into sharp contrast. In a stunning rendition of Debussy’s Images, Book I, Andsnes’ delicate touch, timing and rhythmic steadiness in “Reflections on the Water,” “Homage to Rameau” and “Movement” quietly drew the listener in. He proved a superlative Debussy interpreter.

In the all-Chopin second half, Andsnes began with graceful readings of Four Waltzes, three from Opus 70. In the more technically demanding and showy Waltz in A flat major, Opus 42, speeds were perfectly judged. Andsnes’ relaxed, serene accounts of Chopin’s Ballade No. 3 and Nocturne in B major, Opus 62, No. 1, were paradoxically gripping. His artful pedaling in Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor lent an expressive intensity to its unstoppable forward drive. He dispatched its fearsome coda with apparent ease.

As encores, the pianist offered Chopin’s enchanting Waltz in A flat major, Opus 34, No. 1, and Granados’ lovely Spanish Dance, Opus 37, No. 5 “Andaluza,” both performed with bravura poise and muscular clarity.


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-- Rick Schultz

Above: Leif Ove Andsnes. Credit: Felix Broede

L.A. Phil 2012-13: John Adams, 'Wild Things,' 'Angels in America'

February 6, 2012 |  3:00 pm

This post has been updated. See below.

After sating itself with super-sized helpings of Gustav Mahler this winter, the Los Angeles Philharmonic won't be curbing its appetite for large-scale undertakings next year.

The Phil's 2012-13 season, which will be officially announced later Monday, is a combination of large- and medium-size projects (some new, some evolving from its current season), along with the return of several familiar faces (Esa-Pekka Salonen, Zubin Mehta).

And although there'll be nothing like this season's nine-course banquet of Mahler symphonies, the composer's Symphony No. 5 will be performed in October under guest conductor Daniel Harding. 

The season also will have a distinctly operatic flavor, featuring several staged or semi-staged works. They include the second of a planned trilogy of Mozart/Da Ponte operas, "The Marriage of Figaro," conducted by the Phil's music director, Gustavo Dudamel, with sets designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel and costumes by couturier Azzedine Alaïa.

Deborah Borda, the Phil's president, said in an interview that the Mozart project, which the Phil conceived with architect Frank Gehry, grew out of Dudamel's belief that "an orchestra needs to play Mozart, for purity of sound, and they also need to play opera once in a while, to be nimble."

The project is allowing the Phil to continue to explore the spatial and staging possibilities of Gehry's iconic Walt Disney Concert Hall. Rather than opera sets, Borda described the planned Mozart designs as "installations."

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