Category: Influences

Influences: Violinist Leila Josefowicz

April 4, 2012 | 10:12 am

Leila Josefowicz has played a large number of works over her 34 years, but the violinist has a special relationship to John Adams’ Violin Concerto, to which she returns this weekend. “It was really the piece that started me on what I do now, which is play new music," she says. "I’ve probably played it more than any other piece. The slow movement is one of the most beautiful slow movements in the violin repertory: It’s haunting the way John’s music can be.”

Born in Ontario, Canada, Josefowicz spent most of her childhood in Los Angeles, beginning the violin at age 3 and studying at the Colburn School before leaving with her family for the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. 

She has performed with orchestras around the world, recorded war-horse violin concertos by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and others before committing much of her energy to new compositions by Adams, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Oliver Knussen, Thomas Adès and others. 

“Classical music has been based on works people love and come back to for aural comfort,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s gotten out of proportion.” New works ask for “different listening skills. It can make premieres very exciting and experimental. It’s an exploration.”

In her efforts performing and helping to commission new pieces, she says, “You feel like you’ve really contributed something.” 

The violinist, who is expecting her second baby at the end of May and who performs with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this weekend as part of a concert dubbed “Adams Conducts Adams and Glass,” speaks about her influences.

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Influences: Dancer Savion Glover

March 21, 2012 |  9:00 am

Savion Glover

For Savion Glover, tap dancing is about rhythm, about taking the beat of the drum and bass -– originally, African instruments -– into the body. He’s had plenty of time to think about his take on the tradition: Now 38, Glover was already appearing on Broadway as a child, making his debut with “The Tap Dance Kid” and following it with “Black and Blue,” “Jelly’s Last Jam” and “Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk,” which he helped create and which landed his choreography a Tony Award.

Much of his work as dancer, choreographer and teacher –- he runs the HooFeRzCLuB School for Tap in Newark, N.J. -– has involved taking some of the showbiz and Hollywood out of tap and and reconnecting it with black history going back to the earliest days of slavery, when slaves were forbidden to play drums.

Glover’s California tour, which brings him to the Valley Performing Arts Center on Saturday, is called “Bare Soundz” and will involve two other dancers as well as elements of flamenco. He says his goal for this show is “to give people a chance to hear the music in dance.”

Here Glover talks about his influences, including his teacher, the late Gregory Hines, who once said that Glover might be the finest tap dancer who’d ever lived, and the dancer Jimmy Slyde, who became one of the most visible exemplars of the jazz side tradition in the '80s through performances in “The Cotton Club” and “Round Midnight.” But, says Glover: “It goes beyond what their profession is: It’s people who’ve brought awareness to the world.”

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Influences: Singer-songwriter Stew

March 7, 2012 |  8:00 am

Stew and Heidi
This post has been corrected, see note below.

Even before his improbable transformation into a New York theater figure by his Tony-winning musical “Passing Strange,” the musician who calls himself Stew was confounding people with his odd mix of ingredients. Here was a songwriter who’d been part of an abrasive Berlin underground who came out in the '90s as a “closet pop freak.” The leader of the Los Angeles-based band the Negro Problem, he was a large black man whose deepest passions emerged, apparently, from music with very limited African American roots: XTC, Burt Bacharach, neo-psychedelia and so on.

The L.A. native, born Mark Stewart, will be back in town Friday, with bandmate Heidi Rodewald, for a performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall that will include a series of songs about Los Angeles and to support their new album, “Making It.”

Apparently the ravenous spirit of his interests goes way back. “I used to ditch school, at Fairfax High School, and go down to the downtown library,” he says. “This was my way, if I ever got busted by my parents, I could tell them I was educating myself.”

We spoke to Stew –- who says he and Rodewald have become, uneasily, “show folk” -– about the artists outside the rock/pop traditions who have inspired him.

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Influences: Jazz drummer Justin Faulkner

February 22, 2012 |  9:45 am

Justin Faulkner

For the last three years, audiences have been walking into shows by Branford Marsalis and other headliners and walking out talking about Justin Faulkner.

The drummer joined Marsalis' group on his 18th birthday while still a high school senior; Ben Ratliff of the New York Times described him soon after as playing with “the cutthroat sensibility of the very young with something to prove. At the same time, Mr. Faulkner is listening and attuned to sound.”

Faulkner, who's nearly 20 now, grew up in Philadelphia and attended public schools; singing in the choir, he said, taught him about balance and blending with other voices. He started playing gospel, R&B and classical music at 7; at 13 he began weekly gigs with the funk/free-jazz bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma. He’s since completed high school, toured Europe and Asia with various groups, studied film scoring for two years at Berklee College of Music and begun studying classical composition with a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The drummer is in town Saturday as part of the trio led by jazz guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel; expect to hear music from the album “Reflections,” a lush reading of standards. (The show, which also includes bassist Ugonna Okegwo, is part of the Jazz Bakery’s Movable Feast series.)

Faulkner, who will record the guitarist’s next record in a few weeks, praises Rosenwinkel's harmonic knowledge: “I’ve been in bands where I just hated everything that’s going on. But with Kurt’s band, you find exploration. He gives you the map, but you know there might be a left turn or a right turn, or a detour. And there are certain changes where you just hope for the best.”

We spoke to Faulkner about his influences.

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Influences: Soprano Ana Maria Martinez

February 7, 2012 |  1:47 pm

Ana María Martínez remembers the struggle she went through to find -- and commit to -- her calling. Now she is becoming one of the world’s acclaimed operatic sopranos and, especially in the Spanish-language press, a star. But it did not come easy. 

Born and raised in Puerto Rico before moving with her family to New York, Martínez was educated at Juilliard and won the Plácido Domingo International Voice Competition. Martínez's mother, Evangelína Colón, sang opera on the side while working as a biochemist and later taught music and voice; her father, Dr. Ángel Martínez, is a psychoanalyst.

Today Martínez lives in Houston, which keeps her close to Houston Grand Opera, an institution with which she has a long relationship. Winner of a Latin Grammy for an album of Isaac Albéniz’s music, Martínez –- whom Opera magazine has said "requires ranking among the top lyric sopranos of the day” –- performs the role of Maria in Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” starting Saturday. She has performed with Domingo (who sings the title role here) many times, but this is their first staged opera together.

The soprano spoke about her influences.

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Influences: Early Morning Opera's Lars Jan

January 25, 2012 |  9:30 am

Lars JanEven with the genre-bending eclecticism of today’s avant-garde, Lars Jan stands out. “Abacus,” the piece he brings to town next week, draws from opera, film and performance art, and concerns, among other things, the arbitrary state of national boundaries, the craze for TED presentations and the communication style of mega-churches.

“I’ve become really interested in our heavily screen-based society,” the multimedia artist says. “This is the screen age. I feel like screens have kicked the pants off performance since cinema was invented,” increasing the advertising beamed at us and limiting our ability to have long-term thoughts. “I wonder what will happen when the pendulum begins to swing back.”  

Jan is a polymath in other ways too: The son of émigrés from Afghanistan and Poland, he’s worked in Japan, Afghanistan and Ukraine and studied at Swarthmore and CalArts. (“Abacus” came out of his Los Angeles-based art lab, Early Morning Opera.)

Jan, 33, discussed his influences from Sundance, where he premiered “Abacus” before bringing it to REDCAT Feb. 2-4. 

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Influences: Pianist (and NPR host) Christopher O'Riley

January 11, 2012 | 12:30 pm

Christopher O'Riley
It was probably only a matter of time before Christopher O’Riley, a classical pianist who has performed the work of Radiohead and Elliott Smith, met up with Matt Haimovitz, a cellist with a taste for Hendrix. The two, who have recently released the genre-bending duo album “Shuffle.Play.Listen,” perform at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 18.

O’Riley, host of National Public Radio’s show “From the Top,” spoke to us about his influences. “It’s most important to play what you believe in, what you feel most keenly,” he says. “There is, in immersing oneself in the work at hand, the feeling that what I’m playing or listening to right now is the most beautiful, astonishing music ever. That tends to be exclusory, so if I’m playing Shostakovich's 'Preludes & Fugues,' there is no other music, and when I’m playing music I’ve been listening to for a quarter century, as I have the music of Jon Hassell, Cocteau Twins, John McLaughlin, I am immersed and engulfed in the love of the music.” 

Gunther Schuller: Gunther was president of the New England Conservatory of Music, where I did my training. Readers of his gargantuan autobiography will be astonished at his hunger for musical knowledge and his passion for innumerable musical genres, covering the globe and everything from the pre-Baroque to contemporary jazz. Gunther lives by the Duke Ellington adage, “There are only two kinds of music: good music and the other kind,” putting one’s powers of perception and discernment paramount in the judgment of worth in all musics. 

My colleagues: I was taught by my chamber music coach at NEC, the conductor-cellist Benjamin Zander, that the piano, in its capacity as a percussion instrument, had the capacity to elevate or execrate the performance of whatever instrument was being accompanied; a singing instrument, like a cello, requires a compatible, nurturing musical fabric on which to soar, and the piano can poke percussive holes in such a magic carpet. 

Movies: I also have a lifelong attraction to film, Alfred Hitchcock having been my favorite director since childhood. Of course, music in films really makes a difference with me, and I may still have a deep-seated dream to do film music myself, following in the footsteps of my idols in the field, Bernard Herrmann and Danny Elfman. I recently had the opportunity of writing a piece of music for a CD collection of pieces to be released in February inspired by the new Kris Saknussemm novel “Reverend America.” 

Women: Unabashed, I must answer a query as to why I play the piano honestly, and say it’s to impress girls. In sixth grade, when it started becoming apparent that the flashing octaves of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6 was not getting me the feminine attention I began to crave, I thought to widen my horizons and start playing this music all the prettiest girls were listening to. I started my own little rock band, playing the keyboard-inspired music of my youth: the Doors, Iron Butterfly, Santana, Derek and the Dominoes, and later the jazz and fusion music of Miles Davis and John McLaughlin, even starting to write my own things. Suffice to say, I found that girls liked bad boys a lot more than they ever liked musicians. 

-- Scott Timberg

Christopher O'Riley and Matt Haimovitz, Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, 12700 Center Court Drive, Cerritos, (562) 467-8818, Jan. 18,

Photo: Christopher O'Riley, with Matt Haimovitz on the left. Credit: Sarah Scott

Influences: Jazz musician Billy Childs

December 28, 2011 | 10:00 am

Billy Childs
Billy Childs is a triple threat of music. The jazz pianist, an L.A. native, is not only an accomplished player, but he's also won Grammys for both arranging and composing. The latter skill has drawn the disparate likes of Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Kronos Quartet and the American Brass Quintet to commission Childs’ music for them. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Will Friedwald described Child’s compositional talents as: "...impossible to tell where the jazz ends and the classical music begins.”

Childs will be playing with a jazz quartet at the Blue Whale bar in downtown Los Angeles on  Friday and Saturday nights. Part of the latter performance  -- with vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater emceeing and singing a number or two -- will be heard live on National Public Radio during its multijazz artist “Toast of the Nation” New Year’s Eve broadcast.  Childs will also be at Walt Disney Concert Hall on March 11 -- he will play with a jazz quartet, and then Kronos will play a set and then the two ensembles will collaborate on a new piece written by Childs and aptly named “Music for Two Quartets.”

Among his ecclectic influences:

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Influences: Singer Paulo Szot

December 13, 2011 |  9:12 am

Paulo Szot
Paulo Szot seems to traverse both the physical and musical worlds with equal ease. Born in Brazil to Polish immigrants, the world-class baritone spent his formative years in both places, immersed in the arts. He has sung opera successfully in major houses in the U.S. and Europe and seamlessly crossed over to Broadway, notably in his 2008 Tony Award-winning role in the Lincoln Center hit revival of “South Pacific.”

Having just finished singing Escamillo the bullfighter in a San Francisco Opera production of “Carmen," Szot has briefly set down -- with a stop in between to absorb the Yosemite sights -- in Costa Mesa, where Thursday through Sunday he’ll sing a cabaret set of show tunes and American Songbook standards with an instrumental trio at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Samueli Theater.

Among his life’s influences:

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Influences: Violinist Rachel Barton Pine

November 30, 2011 |  9:00 am

Rachel Barton Pine
Rachel Barton Pine will be performing Paganini’s Caprices for solo violin on Sunday, but she could burst into “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Sweet Child O’ Mine” at any moment. 

The onetime child prodigy, now 37, grew up with a foot in both the classical and heavy metal worlds, and she’s continued that bifurcation throughout her career. She has won a steady string of violin awards, performed with the Chicago Symphony –- her hometown orchestra –- and also plays in the thrash band Earthen Grave. Her latest album, “Caprichio Latino,” is dedicated to the music of Spanish-language composers, from Albéniz to Piazzolla. But early recordings tackle AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” and a medley of Led Zeppelin songs. 

She’ll be playing at one of the Southland’s best -– and hardest to get into -– chamber music series, at the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. Though it’s in the West Adams neighborhood associated with USC, the 1926 building is owned by UCLA and is an internationally important center for rare books, the 18th century, and Oscar Wilde. The wood-lined room in which performances take place is intimate and acoustically close to ideal. Though maybe not if you are blasting Zeppelin. 

We spoke to Pine about figures who have inspired or shaped her. 

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