Category: UCLA Live

Music review: Pacifica Quartet at UCLA's Royce Hall

April 12, 2012 | 11:23 am

Pacifica Quartet
The Pacifica Quartet likes to think big -- and in the chamber music field, that often means doing cycles. 

Some adventurous listeners remember the evening at UCLA's Schoenberg Hall in 2003 when the Pacifica served up all five of Elliott Carter’s notoriously knotty string quartets in one mighty scoop; after that, you figured that from then on, everything else would be a piece of cake for them.  There were more cycles to come -- most recently, two volumes of an emerging CD project on the Cedille label, “The Soviet Experience,” that will link all 15 Shostakovich quartets with four by his Soviet colleagues.

However, the Pacifica did not have omnivorous feats in mind when it visited UCLA’s Royce Hall on  Wednesday night -- just Beethoven’s Quartets Nos. 4 and 8, and Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 9, plus the spiky, humorous, Allegretto pizzicato movement from Bartók’s Quartet No. 4 as an encore. 

Live, the Pacifica sacrifices some of the smooth, virtually immaculate surface that it displays on its recordings. But in return, there was a big gain in dramatic tension and fire, with all four players listening intently to one another. 

Though it is one of Beethoven’s early Op. 18 quartets, the No. 4 could take the Pacifica’s emphatically-accented, forwardly-pushed approach more in stride than some of the others in Op. 18 might have.  The Beethoven Quartet No. 8 at the end of the night was even better -- from the first movement’s big symphonic chords to the perfectly sprung rhythms and fast tempos in the third and fourth movements. 

On the Pacifica’s Shostakovich CDs, the group usually stakes a middle ground between the Emerson Quartet’s fierceness and the Fitzwilliam Quartet’s warmth.  Live in the Quartet No. 9, the Pacifica leaned more toward the former approach, identifying with the wildness in the third and fifth movements, bearing down hard toward the conclusion with terrific momentum.


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-- Richard S. Ginell

Photo: The Pacifica Quartet, from left, Sibbi Bernhardsson, Brandon Vamos, Masumi Per Rostad and Simin Ganatra. Credit: Anthony Parmelee.

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.

Continue reading »

2011 year in review: Best in dance

December 14, 2011 |  3:11 pm

Benjamin Millepied
Two significant events reverberated in 2011 for Los Angeles dance, book ends to the touring companies that annually blow in and out of town.

In January, 12 dance groups were invited to compete on “The A.W.A.R.D. Show!”, a reality-TV style co-production of the Joyce Theater Foundation and REDCAT, Cal Art’s downtown performance and arts center. Choreographer Barak Marshall won the $10,000 prize, but all the participants surely benefited from the recognition and audience exposure that being at REDCAT confers.

Then last month, the formation of L.A. Dance Project was announced, a new “arts collective” founded by choreographer and dancer Benjamin Millepied, with backing from the Music Center.

In both these instances, powerful institutions reached out to sustain or create local infrastructure. Both have potential to be exciting developments, particularly if they have long-lasting impact. This kind of support is vital, and has been notably absent for decades. Will it continue? Stay tuned in 2012.

Oh, and about those touring companies…it was a year of superlative performances, from established powerhouses and groups making debut engagements. These were personal favorites, with photos of each:

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Music review: Evelyn Glennie and Maya Beiser at UCLA’s Royce Hall

November 12, 2011 |  2:52 pm

370-Glennie & Beiser_UCLA Live_5x
Two extraordinary musicians, American cellist Maya Beiser and Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie, shared a program at UCLA's Royce Hall on Friday. Beiser and her ensemble performed in the first half; Glennie soloed in the second. They joined each other at the end for “Stuttered Chant,” a new short work written for them by David Lang.

It was an interesting experiment. Depending on your point of view, Beiser and Glennie as concert partners were either good value –- an amazing twofer -– or an odd, overflowing juxtaposition of contrasting temperaments and styles.

The turnout in the big hall felt sparse, and audience members were encouraged to move closer to the stage. Beiser and her ensemble -– Bassam Saba, oud; Shane Shanahan and Matt Kilmer, percussion -– performed all five works on her 2010 album, “Provenance,” nearly an hour of evocative, melancholy and emotional Middle Eastern music filtered through Beiser’s Western classical sensibility.

The cellist’s richly flavorful, idiomatic vibrato was just one of many delights in Kayhan Kalhor’s “I Was There,” composed for Beiser. Her half of the show ended with a restrained account of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” arranged for multi-track cello. Perhaps Beiser, who had prepared an encore, was being careful not to step on Glennie's upcoming set. In any case, modest applause did not generate one.

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Music review: Apollo’s Fire and Philippe Jaroussky at Royce Hall

October 29, 2011 |  2:53 pm

Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra
The French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky joined Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra at Royce Hall on Friday for a thrilling UCLA Live program called “Handel and Vivaldi Fireworks.” The concert marked Jaroussky’s West Coast debut and the orchestra’s first Los Angeles appearance.

During a generous program that lasted almost 2 1/2 hours, the concertmaster, Olivier Brault, took time out to repair a broken string, and several of the ensemble’s 14 players paused for repeated tunings. It was all an authentic part of the Baroque experience, which included the playing of a very long-necked lute-like instrument called a theorbo.

Philippe JarousskyIn the first half, conductor and harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell, who founded Apollo’s Fire in Cleveland in 1992, led an earthy account of the Allegro from Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D, after Concerto RV 511, and an affecting reading of his Concerto in G minor for Two Cellos, its touching Largo a highlight.

But the fireworks really ignited whenever Jaroussky took the stage. At 33, he owns a winning stage presence and a pure, radiant countertenor/soprano voice. He sang seven selections in the main program, including a passionate and finely characterized rendition of Orfeo’s recitative and aria “Ho perso il caro ben” from Handel’s “Il Parnasso in Festa.”

Jaroussky’s natural phrasing and control in coloratura flourishes were stunning, especially in “Con l’ali di costanza,” from Handel’s “Ariodante,” where, Sorrell told the audience, “joy takes the form of many notes.”

After intermission, Jaroussky turned to neglected Vivaldi arias, including “Frà le procelle,” from “Tito Manlio.” Apollo’s Fire gave him spirited support throughout. An enthusiastic audience called the singer and ensemble back for three encores, each exquisitely rendered: Porpora’s “Alto Giove” from “Polifemo”; Handel’s “Venti, turbini” from “Rinaldo”; and Handel’s “Ombra mai fu” from “Xerxes.”


Encores? Hilary Hahn is happy to oblige

--Rick Schultz

Photos: Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra  Credit: Roger Mastroianni

Philippe Jaroussky. Credit: Simon Fowler


ncores? Hilary Hahn is happy to oblige

Dance review: Hofesh Shechter's 'Political Mother' at UCLA Live

October 20, 2011 |  4:30 pm

This post has been corrected. Please see details below.


In a week of dramatic Mideast news, including the release of Sgt. 1st Class Gilad Shalit and the death of deposed Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, Royce Hall audiences who caught the United States premiere of Israeli-born choreographer/composer Hofesh Shechter’s “Political Mother” traveled beyond these headlines into a rigorous theatrical commentary on collective life during 21st century wartime.

Now the only U.S. city to have seen both of Shechter’s two international tours (the mixed bill “Uprising/In Your Rooms”  played Royce Hall in 2009), Los Angeles is fortunate to bear witness to the arrival of a dance/theater artist with this much commitment and voice. In “Political Mother” (2010), his first full-length piece, Shechter delivers 70 minutes of loud, suffocating musical and theatrical homogeneity in order to indicate the real brutalism that a society bears after years of unrelenting political tension and frustration.  

The piece opens with formally poised samurai in stylized armor and sword who suddenly, violently, crashes to the ground in a hara-kiri plunge. A crowd of dancers emerges from a blackout like a storm of tumbleweeds in desert-sand fatigues -– rising, falling, twitching, skipping -– they move continuously but always with semi-collapsed and contracted carriage (is that sword still there?). Shaped by despair, their arms lift skyward but never fully extend; torsos droop or fling back, never stand simply erect; all eye contact or gaze is missing.  This absence of complete limb extension or facial gaze weirdly and instantly strips them of all individuality and character. (Is this then what it means to be human? The reaching we do? How and where we fix our eyes?)  

Besides their capped postures, these groups are hemmed in by an ingenious sonic barrier – instead of a scrim there is a literal wall-of-sound, composed by Shechter, made manifest. The ground level features a row of militaristic drummers (whose eyes we can see); stacked atop of them, in a second tier, is a row of heavy-metal guitarists flanking a central showman-figure (sometimes a black-suited dictator, sometimes a shrieking rock vocalist).  

A second group of dancers emerges, in more colorful clothes, who present more organized, ritualistic Semitic phrases, like Teyve-style shimmying torsos, and legs stepping in single time while fingers tickle the air by their faces. Yet there is no interaction between the two groups, nor any penetration into the area where the musicians play, until the very last moments. 

“Political Mother” is not an easy work: The relentless sonic discordance and movement repetition drove a number of folks out of the theater.  Much like the stark Japanese Butoh dance tradition, there seems little forward motion within the grim and disfigured expressions at first, yet there is a real integrity and dedication to the chosen stylistic parameters that eventually pays off. When Shechter’s beaten tribe finally accumulates a new gesture, and then a new sense of bearing, it is as thrilling and organic and consequential as a genetic leap.  

-- Jean Lenihan

“Political Mother,”  UCLA's Royce Hall, Thursday, 8 p.m. $24-$, (310) 825.2101.

For the Record: Thursday, Oct. 20, 8:35: Hofesh Shechter's name was mispelled in earlier versions of this post as Hofesh Shecter.

Itzhak Perlman, Sonny Rollins, Stew and global warming concert to highlight UCLA Live season

May 12, 2011 |  6:00 pm


The coming UCLA Live season at Royce Hall will feature an array of instrumentalists, singers and speakers whose lifetime honors are unquestioned –- among them Itzhak Perlman, Sonny Rollins, Earl Scruggs, Joan Didion and Kenny Burrell. 

Burrell, the jazz guitarist and UCLA music professor, will be the focus of a belated 80th birthday celebration (Nov. 12) in which B.B. King, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lalo Schifrin, UCLA’s jazz and classical orchestras and composers from the music school’s faculty will be among those paying musical tribute. Burrell is the founding director of UCLA’s jazz studies program, launched in 1996.

Also featured in the season announced Thursday is the premiere of an unusual conceptual concert in which the 36 dancers, singers and instrumentalists won’t lack for motivation to perform as if their lives depended on it. That’s the point of the show, “Water is Rising: Music and Dance Amid Climate Change,” in which artists from the Pacific atolls of Kiribati, Tokelau and Tuvalu will perform in their islands' traditional styles while trying to bring attention to the threat that rising sea levels caused by global warming poses to their tiny nations -- and ours (Oct. 15).

The concert is being organized by UCLA's Center for Intercultural Performance and is part of the citywide World Festival of Sacred Music. The Royce Hall performance kicks off a 14-city tour that, according to the center's website, includes shows Oct. 16-17 at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, Oct. 18-19 at UC Riverside, Oct. 23-24 at Soka University in Aliso Viejo, Nov. 1-2 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and Nov. 6 at New York University.

StewHeidiRodewaldJeffFasano Another potential highlight is the first headlining turn in a large hometown concert venue for L.A.-bred rocker Stew (Mark Stewart) and his band the Negro Problem (March 9). Stew and his key bandmate and songwriting partner, Heidi Rodewald (pictured), were longtime scufflers on the local and national club scene before being catapulted to fame via their stage musical, “Passing Strange.” On Broadway the semi-autobiographical show won Stew a 2007 Tony Award for best book, and Spike Lee’s film of the production was broadcast nationally on PBS last year.

The season arises from a booking interregnum of sorts for the venerable performance series. Christopher Waterman, dean of UCLA’s School of the Arts and Architecture, took over the programming reins following the resignation last year of David Sefton. Faced with declining ticket sales and donations, Waterman and the UCLA Live board decided to economize by canceling the International Theatre Festival component that Sefton had launched and considered indispensable; he resigned rather than continue without it.

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Dance review: Lucinda Childs revives 'Dance' at Royce Hall

May 8, 2011 |  3:54 pm

Say what you will about late-'70s style and disco decadence, a few dozen Manhattan blocks south of Studio 54 was the headquarters of High Minimalism. Avant-garde artists in all disciplines had their poverty and their ideas, as Merce Cunningham once put it. They lived in stripped-down lofts in then gritty SoHo and stripped down their work to essentials, sharing an aesthetic and lifestyle and openness to collaboration.

Lucinda-childs-dance A racist and homophobic Chicago riot, July 12, 1979, is known as the day disco died an ignominious death. Meanwhile, Minimalism, idealistic and unfiltered, reached perhaps its pinnacle at the decade’s end with Lucinda Childs’ “Dance,” her choreography to Philip Glass’ “Dance Nos. 1–5” with filmed projections by the conceptual artist Sol LeWitt.

Friday night, Childs brought a revival of the first three parts of “Dance” to UCLA’s Royce Hall. It is a magnificent work on all levels. And it now includes a new level -- that of history.

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L.A. choreographer Barak Marshall, the accidental choreographer

April 9, 2011 | 10:30 am

Barak Barak Marshall never intended to be what he is -- a choreographer whose works are winning prizes and plaudits. But the native Angeleno could hardly stave off the maternal influence of Margalit Oved, former star of Inbal Dance Theater.

"Dance?" he asks quizzically, "That was something my mother did. Not what I did."

The tune has changed somewhat. "OK," he says, "You can call me an accidental dancer."

Minutes later he launches into a rehearsal at a studio on Pico Boulevard and leaves no doubt of what he does and who he is. The piece is "Monger." Its narrative concerns the master-servant relationship and is based on the wife of a British general in Aden, Yemen who holds her servants in contempt.

But it's also about what the unfortunate do to survive. "They sell their souls. In that sense we're all mongers of one sort or another -- selling fish or gossip or war or peace."

Marhsall brings his company to UCLA Live this week. For the Arts & Books profile of the accidental choreographer, click here.

-- Donna Perlmutter

Photo: Marshall, dressed in black, working on the choreography with his dancers at Minoda Studio in Los Angeles; Credit: Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times


UCLA Live names new artistic director

April 5, 2011 |  7:13 am

KristyEdmundsLisaTommasetti Nearly a year after its lead job became vacant, UCLA Live will name a new executive and artistic director Tuesday morning.   

Kristy Edmunds is coming to Westwood after 15 years as an institution-building hero of the Portland, Ore., contemporary arts scene, and four more as a lightning rod in Australia, where her avant-garde choices as artistic director of the annual Melbourne International Arts Festival reaped both criticism and respect.

Edmunds, 45, has the task of restoring some of the adventurousness and range that have been sacrificed in the face of dwindling resources and attendance. Last May, David Sefton resigned after 10 years in charge of the program, saying that his bosses' decision to cancel the annual International Theater Festival he'd shepherded was a deal-breaker. 

Edmunds' new colleagues, including Christopher Waterman, dean of UCLA's School of the Arts and Architecture, think she has the charisma and connections to attract compelling performers, along with the donations needed to underwrite an adventurous program.

Click here for the full story about Edmunds' three-year appointment.


DavidSeftonNinoVia Critic's notebook: UCLA Live abandons what set it apart

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UCLA Live director David Sefton resigns


-- Mike Boehm

 Photo: Kristy Edmunds. Credit: Lisa Tommasetti


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