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Monday Evening Concerts at 70

December 9, 2008 | 12:26 pm

Squeezebox_4 The Monday Evening Concerts began as Evenings on the Roof in a music enthusiast’s Silver Lake attic in April 1939 with the intention of presenting neglected new music (Schoenberg and Bartók in those days) and neglected old music (Bach’s piano music in those days).  The series is historic and, after many ups and downs, is newly up.

Monday night was the start of the 70th anniversary season, making this the longest-running new music enterprise in the country, and maybe anywhere.  A large audience was in attendance at Zipper Concert Hall at the Colburn School.  The program, titled “The Avant-Garde Through the Ages,” included a curious Italian accordionist, a Japanese kalimbaist and some specialists in medieval music as  well as outstanding local musicians. The music came from Germany, Japan, Italy and France.  The new was weird.  The old was equally weird.

The newest works were “Bone #,” written in 2000 by Keiko Harada, and “Sugar 1,” written a year later by Michael Maierhof.  Both explored unusual sounds.  Combining the kalimba, an African finger piano, with violin, Harada, a Japanese composer born in 1968, found fascinating ways to exploit what she called the kalimba’s “mysterious vibrations that seem to go on forever.”

Kuniko Kato was the striking percussionist -- in more ways than one -- rhythmically beating the kalimba but also letting it vibrate as if forever by placing it on top of a gourd lying in a tub of water and on a drum.  Movses Pogossian was the intense violinist, bending his tones to meet the kalimba’s resonances.  A fresh world of sound, exquisite and exciting, was the product.

For “Sugar 1,” percussionist Amy Knoles played the piano, placed center stage, without playing the piano.  She rubbed and dubbed the strings with plastic buckets, golf balls, this and that.  The instrument howled in protest.  A violinist (Eric km Clark) and cellist (Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick) reacted in their own screechy way.  Maierhof (German, born 1956) took a lot of trouble to accomplish the effect of chalk scratched on a blackboard.  Still, the piece was interesting for a short while before its crudity became wearing.  The performers were excellent throughout.

Monday’s avant-garde early music came from late 14th and early 15th century France in the form of strange harmonies underscoring strange texts.  Although they lived before tobacco reached Europe, two composers, Johannes Symonis Hasprois and Solage, were apparently obsessed with the psychedelia of smoke and smoking, rather than the usual chanson subject of lost love.  The soprano Phoebe Jevtovic Alexander sang elegantly in an ancient practice that sounded closer to modern music than it did to 19th century bel canto.  She sat next to Shira Kammen and Susan Feldman, players of medieval harp and vielle, but I think had the soprano stood she might have been more expressive.

I was glad, though, that the accordionist, Teodoro Anzellotti, remained seated.  He was more than expressive enough as it was it was.  He squeaked and squawked through the first of his three works, Vinko Globokar’s “Dialog über Luft” (Dialogue on air). In this vulgar display of squeezebox folk music made mad, Anzellotti was also required to singing with a pinched voice.  He did what he was asked.  But the accordionist had no one but himself to blame for his arrangement of a Baroque keyboard piece by Johann Jacob Froberger, clumsily played.

Anzellotti, however, ended the evening in refined beauty with Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza XIII,” written for him in 1995.  The accordion, here, is like a vessel of memory: Haunted sounds and hints of melodies come as if from afar through veils of time.  Anzellotti played from memory music that felt neither old nor new.  This lovely, short "Sequenza," which is subtitled “Chanson,” is the avant-garde not through the ages but for the ages. 

-- Mark Swed

Photo: Teodoro Anzellotti onstage at Zipper Concert Hall. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times
 

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