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.
We 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.
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.
Sandra Bernhard, who performed at REDCAT last year, is set to return to the downtown Los Angeles venue with her new show, "Sandrology." The comedian is scheduled to appear from May 30 to June 3, with all performances at 8 p.m, except the final one, which will begin at 7 p.m.
"Sandrology" will examine "the worlds of contemporary culture, politics and celebrity," according to organizers. The show, which will feature Bernhard with a rock band, takes its title from the comedian's regular spot on the Bravo talk show "Watch What Happens Live," on which she serves as a "cultural anthropologist."
Last year, Bernhard appeared at REDCAT with her show "I Love Being Me, Don't You?" The comedian is known for her aggressive performance style, and sometimes raunchy and profane rhetoric.
REDCAT said "Sandrology" will feature musical numbers. The organization said that Bernhard's previous show had sold out and that they had been in talks with her to return ever since.
-- David Ng
Photo: Sandra Bernhard. Credit: Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times
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.
The sculptures in Andrew Lewicki's first solo show, at Charlie James, shimmer as brightly and briefly as fireworks -- and leave just as little residue. Each involves some sort of transposition or transformation -- the familiar re-crafted in an unfamiliar material, the precious recast as mundane or vice versa. A waffle iron bears raised, Teflon-coated Louis Vuitton monograms instead of the usual generic grid of square nubs. What looks like a stack of gold bars is actually melted and reformed gold crayons. A cast-iron manhole cover looks exactly like a giant Oreo.
The work comes across as smart and calculated, but too much so -- overly schooled, almost smug. The sculptures are all one-liners, but as Lewicki writes in an airtight accompanying statement, they're meant to be so, intended to parody the rhetorical device even if they merely exploit it.
The stunted strategy brings to mind any number of artists from a generation ago who aspired to critique the commodification of art by creating yet more art-like commodities, framed by invisible air-quotes. Lewicki's work also recalls, naturally, Warhol and Duchamp, but doesn't pick up where they left off, re-envisioning relationships between found and fabricated, art and product, desire and fulfilment.
Complicated doesn't begin to describe the relationships that Leigh Ledare cultivates and documents in his work. The gamut runs from tender through troubling to taboo. In recent photographs, videos and an installation at the Box, the New York-based Ledare mines connections and disconnections between himself, his mother, his ex-wife and assorted strangers. The show is fascinating throughout for its twisted takes on intimacy, vulnerability and the shifting balance of control between individuals on either side of the lens.
Each of Ledare's works starts as a conceptual proposition: What if he answered "Women Seeking Men" ads and paid the women to stage a portrait of him in their own setting, according to their own naked desires? What if he re-presented fragmented footage of a soft-porn video his mother and her friends once made, leaving audible the directorial cues, heightening the artifice?
Bach's “St. John” is no "St. Matthew." The "St. John Passion" does not hold the central place as one of the greatest and most revered spiritual artworks of Western civilization that Bach's “St. Matthew” does. "John" is smaller, shorter, more intimate, more dramatic. And controversial. Performances of “John” often include an apologia these days, since only one of Bach’s two surviving Passions is anti-Semitic.
But is “John” the lesser Passion? The current fashion is to consider it the modern one. It is prized for its terse theatricality and for the very fact that “John” is not weighed down by the sanctimonious baggage “Matthew” carries. But in a solemn performance by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and the period instrumental ensemble Musica Angelica at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sunday night, “John” was expected to hold its spiritual own. And it did.
The Master Chorale’s music director, Grant Gershon, is a choral conductor with a foot on the lyric stage. He is also associate conductor of Los Angeles Opera, and there seems little doubt that he could have presented a histrionic, passionate “John” had he wanted to. But this was a “John” of consolation, not confrontation.
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.
During Esa-Pekka Salonen’s 17 seasons with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so many Finnish instrumentalists, conductors and composers came through L.A. that you might have thought Finnair would have found it profitable to restore service to LAX. But at least one prominent Finnish conductor and one somewhat prominent Finnish composer were notable for their absences.
Osmo Vänskä, a classmate of Salonen’s at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, is a darling of New York music critics (he was Musical America’s conductor of the year in 2005), and he has long been a favorite of record collectors. But with his flamboyant conducting style and his championing of the neo-Romantic Finnish composer Kalevi Aho, Vänskä seems the polar opposite of the cooler, more progressive Salonen.
Even so, it is important for the opposition party to get an airing. And at Walt Disney Concert Hall, a month shy of three years after Salonen conducted his last concert as the orchestra’s music director, Vänskä finally made his belated L.A. Phil debut. On Saturday night, moreover, he led the L.A. premiere of Aho’s Clarinet Concerto, with Martin Fröst as the flashy soloist.
I would be surprised if Vänskä were to be invited back any time soon. Ditto Aho.