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Vijay Iyer to stretch out with Idyllwild Arts Orchestra at REDCAT

May 6, 2010 |  1:32 pm

A month removed from the vivid, Electric Miles-inspired excursions with Wadada Leo Smith at Barnsdall Gallery Theater, jazz pianist Vijay Iyer returns to L.A. Sunday, but not in the capacity fans of his critically lauded 2009 album "Historicity" might expect.

While Iyer's remarkable trio is scheduled to return later this summer with a performance at Pasadena's Levitt Pavilion, this weekend's show at REDCAT will showcase Iyer's classical leanings with the West Coast debut of his "Interventions for Improvised Piano, Electronics and Orchestra," a 15-minute composition that will also feature him as a soloist. First performed in 2007 and commissioned by the American Composers' Orchestra in New York, Iyer will be revisiting the work with the help of Idyllwild Arts Orchestra's conductor and composer-in-residence Peter Askim, who played music with Iyer in college. 

While its not hard to hear the influence of classical music in Iyer's rich and evocative playing, the shift from his typically improvisation-heavy process with jazz to something more regimented didn't require a drastic change in his mindset.

"It's an interesting shift, to be sure," Iyer said via e-mail earlier this week. "I just came off a tour with my trio in Europe. We don't plan what we are going to play before we get on stage, we just get up there, take the temperature of the room, and then surf through our repertoire in real time. In 'Interventions,' I've worked pretty carefully to sculpt the gestures of 30 people over 15 minutes.

"That said, there are composed elements in the trio music and improvised elements in the orchestra piece. So at some level compositional and improvisational strategies are meant to coexist."

In addition to Iyer's performance, Sunday's concert offers further explorations into New Music with the Idyllwild Arts Orchestra, including the premieres of Askim's "Still Points: Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra" and Lawrence Dillon's "Schumann Trilogy," a piece dedicated to the 200th birthday of German composer Robert Schumann.

An omnivorous musician who looks to Bartok and Ligeti for influence as readily as the Anti-pop Consortium and M.I.A., Iyer hopes to revisit classical composition soon.

"I've been writing smaller-scale chamber music and am interested to work with a larger canvas," he said. "I love working across genres and disciplines. It makes everyone stretch -- especially me!"

-- Chris Barton

Photo: Vijay Iyer in concert with Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet at Barnsdall Gallery Theater in April. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times