Carl Stone, the Los Angeles composer, was a pioneer sampler in the 1970s, crafting passages from classical music, jazz and rock into musical works that enchant like Alexander Calder sculptures. Although he was sampling before Kanye West was born, Stone said he was hardly the first to blend the beats and melodies of others into his own.
"I'm definitely not the first," he said with a short laugh. "Bach was a sampler. And when Brahms did his variations on a theme by Handel, he was sampling. When Alban Berg appropriated Bach, he was sampling. And even in the electronic domain, there were people who were using sampling as a technique in the 1950s, composers like James Tenney, who was one of my teachers at CalArts."
In the 1970s, Stone added, sampling was manual labor, compared with today, when musicians slide files around on a computer. "In my day," Stone said, "we used the technology of the time: recordings, microphone-collected recordings, appropriated music. We used tape recorders and did tape splices, loops and made mixed collages."
Have you ever read the program in the middle of a classical music concert? Brought your own printed score and followed it during a performance? Of course you have, say champions of digital media. Now it's time for classical music to get over its stodgy self and allow you to boost your experience of Beethoven by lighting up your smartphone or tablet during a concert.
To resuscitate classical music in our hyperactive age, says social media consultant Beth Kanter, who works with nonprofit groups, the industry has taken many fine steps in marketing its wares on the Internet. But now its executives need to cross "the final frontier -- the sacred concert experience."
"Maybe I'm just weird," says Kanter, 54, a longtime fan of classical music. "But I want to be able to take an iPad to a concert and have downloaded an interactive program and maybe follow a score. Or I might listen, and think, 'Wow, that was great. Who was that player?'
"And look him up on Wikipedia."
All together now: Is this a good idea?
Jazz composer Maria Schneider lives in the kind of small New York City apartment that you can't imagine her ever leaving. It's old and warm and crammed with beloved books and things of a life imaginatively lived, notably, of course, an upright piano, covered just now with scores.
On this spring morning, the western sun pours over a cracked window sill and a medley of unruly house plants, illuminating a series of fantastically strange gothic paintings of vaguely identifiable Midwestern icons like grain elevators and farm machinery, done by Schneider's sister Kate. "Aren't they bleak?" Schneider says with a huge smile.
Schneider, diminutive and ebullient as a dance-hall pianist, eschews a venerable chair and sits on her dark wood floor and lovingly recites by heart a poem by Ted Kooser. It goes like this:
Walking by flashlight
at six in the morning,
my circle of light on the gravel
swinging side to side,
coyote, raccoon, field mouse, sparrow,
each watching from darkness
this man with the moon on a leash.
While interviewing Amy Watson, a principal dancer in the Royal Danish Ballet (which performs next week in Costa Mesa), for a Sunday Arts & Books profile of her boss, Nikolaj Hübbe, artistic director of the company, I told her about watching Hübbe, formerly a beloved dancer in the New York City Ballet, walk through a reception for him at the Guggenheim Museum. It was like watching a prince glide through his adoring minions, I said. "Oh, yeah," she said, laughing.
Watson, born in Oceanside (she was a military kid and lived on Camp Pendleton until she was 10), offered that when she was a teenager at the School of American Ballet in New York, and Hübbe came to teach, "We used to put on special makeup. We used to say, 'Ohmigod, Nikolaj's teaching, we have to wear makeup today and our pretty leotards.' Yeah, he's a magnet. He's a magnet to women and men. He just has this persona around him. When he comes into a room, his persona demands attention."
I asked her if acclaimed dancers always made good teachers. "It definitely does not go hand-in-hand," she said. "I've worked with phenomenal dancers who have had phenomenal careers and it has not been the same when they have made that transition into being a coach or instructor." But Hübbe, Watson said, was the exception: he was a sensational teacher and mentor.
"He is the most passionate person I know when it comes to this art form. He knows everything about it. He knows the history of every ballet, of every ballerina. You can talk to him about every style, every company, this person, that person. He gives all his knowledge."
His passion, she said, ran both ways. "He can be passionate about something being phenomenal, and he can be passionate about something that he highly disagrees with you on. He likes to argue. So you get a good debate going with him, I'll say that. But he always wants the best for the art form, the best for you."
Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, co-artistic directors of the Los Angeles Ballet, talked in a recent interview like proud parents about their young dancers in the company's production of "Giselle," which opens Saturday at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. The pair, once praised dancers themselves, stressed that the L.A. Ballet dancers' inexperience in the famous roles of innocent farm girl Giselle and duplicitous nobleman Albrecht, will be the key to the production's success.
"They're not taking somebody else's view of the roles from Bolshoi or wherever," Neary said. "They're just doing their thing. So it's so refreshing to see, I have to say."
Although the co-directors didn't mention Mikhail Baryshnikov, their approach to "Giselle," emphasizing the main characters' youth and freshness, seemed to mirror the great Russian dancer's conviction that expressing innocence was indeed the way to tap the romance and tragic love at the heart of the 1841 ballet. Baryshnikov first performed Albrecht -- a duke who disguises himself as a peasant to win Giselle's affection, even though he is engaged to a princess -- with the Kirov Ballet in 1972. His performance, a break from stodgy tradition, or that's how he saw it, created a sensation in the dance world.
In his 1976 book, "Baryshnikov at Work," in which he discussed his approach to roles in ballet's renowned works, Baryshnikov explained that Albrecht had traditionally been interpreted as a cad who dupes Giselle. "His social position and noble bearing are the most important aspects in the standard interpretation of the role," he said.
But that wasn't how Baryshnikov saw it. "For me Albrecht is so in love with Giselle that his love is his undoing," he said. "This love is so true, so perfect, that he doesn’t want to jeopardize it by revealing his true identity. It is the honesty of his feelings that leads him to his dishonesty." Baryshnikov concluded, "I want the audience to know that Albrecht is innocent: not that he's responsible for what occurs, but that his motives are pure."
It will be fascinating to see the Albrecht and Giselle that the young L.A. Ballet dancers bring to the stage, in performances at Redondo Beach, Glendale and Santa Monica.
Read the full story.
-- Kevin Berger
Photo: Artistic Director Thordal Christensen works with dancers Allyssa Bross (Giselle) and Christopher Revels (Albrecht) at a rehearsal. Credit: Christina House / For The TImes
One of the most enjoyable things I learned about Steve Reich, while writing this Arts and Books profile of the composer, hooked to his new work, "WTC 9/11," being performed Wednesday by the Kronos Quartet in Costa Mesa, was that the father of minimalism has a son who fronts a rock band in Los Angeles. And not your standard-issue strum-and-glum guitar rock. The music of the Ezra Reich Band is an unabashed throwback to 1980s synth-pop with big and marvelous hooks that say Berlin, I love you.
It's true, said the engaging Ezra, 32, who was delighted to talk about his music and famous dad. "When I hear 'Take My Breath Away' or some of those huge '80s hits, they sound avant-garde to me, compared to digital recordings now, which sound hard and computer-y. People might be jaded and say those things are cheesy. But I love Roxy Music and the New Romantic new wave bands. You've got great emotional songwriting, simplicity and a really great sound design." You can hear the shimmering pop of the Ezra Reich Band on its independent albums "Freeze the Night" and "Milkshake Arcade," available on iTunes, and on its newest songs, available on its website.
So what inspired Ezra to launch a career in music? The avant-garde sounds of his father? The recordings always playing in the New York apartment where he grew up? Bach? Stravinsky? Berio?
"Ritchie Valens," Ezra said. When he first heard "La Bamba" and "Donna" on a 1980s public-radio show called "Kids America," his musical path was sown. No John Cage studies at Juilliard for him. No concerts of electronic blips in Soho art galleries. "I remember getting in arguments with my dad that I'd wanted to be in a rock band," Ezra said. "He was like, 'I don't know about that.' He had been friends with Phil Lesh and the Grateful Dead coming up, and had been around drugs and all that. But definitely from an early age I was hooked on rock and pop."
When I tell you that "1969," an evening of music, video and theater performed Thursday at the Zankel Hall in New York, and based on the prospect that John Lennon and iconoclastic German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen planned to stage a concert together, was fantastic, I mean it in all senses of the word. It was a fantasy. Last week, Allan Kozinn of the New York Times asked Yoko Ono about the long-
rumored rendezvous of the pop and avant-garde music masters. Said she: "there is not an iota of truth to that story."
But Alarm Will Sound, the 20-member new-music ensemble that created "1969," proved fantasy is its own path to truth. The group fulfilled every expectation that Lennon and Stockhausen might have had for their own big show. They exploded musical genres, made history come alive and demonstrated that art -- original, vivid, reckless -- can lift the grim clouds of current events, if only for two hours.
Alarm Will Sound artistic director Alan Pierson explained that "1969," the show and year, represented the genesis of the "connection being formed between popular music and art music." That might sound
like a modest or academic motivation for an elaborate concert, four years in the making. (It will be staged again April 23 at the University of Denver's Newman Center.) But it's neither when you realize just how vivifying new art music can now be.
Rock does seem dead and classical music in the grave when you hear the vibrant sounds of new music groups like Alarm Will Sound and eighth blackbird, the Dirty Projectors and Jack Quartet, which are turning up more regularly now in L.A. venues. Young musicians blind to barriers between the Beatles and Stockhausen, Sibelius and the National are making music with the creative fire that first seared rock into your soul. They are the "liberating forces of eclecticism," as 1960s composer Luciano Berio declared in "1969." And they know their history.