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The Lion in Love

Michael York, star of Passion and Obsession
Douglas Kirkland

Along with Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorák, Leos Janácek (1854-1928) forms the Holy Trinity of Czech composers. Also a musical theorist, critic, teacher and folklorist, Janácek combined a love of his native folk music and themes with an open, adventurous mind and ear that áaccommodated fascinating change and growth in musical styles, from early romanticism to later experimentation with atonality. Among Janácek’s most interesting works is his opera, The Cunning Little Vixen. Composed in 1924, four years before the composer’s death, the work is an adaptation of a popular Czech daily comic strip, and features a wide variety of animal characters. But Janácek went beyond the superficial light comedy and satire, to create a meditation on the painful cycle of life and death. In anticipation of their upcoming production of The Cunning Little Vixen, Long Beach Opera presents a Sunday afternoon celebrating the life and work of Janácek, which includes Petr Kanka’s documentary In Search of Janácek, an exploration of the composer’s complex character and relationships; Passion and Obsession, a theatrical presentation based on Janácek’s love letters and his turbulent ménage à trois with his mistress and his wife, which stars Michael York, Edita Brychta, Hellena Taylor and Sonja Berggren; a performance of Janácek’s String Quartet No. 2 by the Lyris String Quartet; and a sampling of “Czech culinary treats.” Czech it out! Art Theatre of Long Beach, 2025 E. Fourth St., Long Beach; Sun., Jan. 11, 3 p.m. $30. (562) 432-5934.

LOS ANGELES CHAMBER ORCHESTRA

Osvaldo Golijov is nothing if not intriguing, and his newest work, Azul, is even more intriguing than usual. It incorporates so many references and so much musical adventuring that it’s almost impossible to pare it to a simple synopsis. Baroque homage coexists with surreal, mystical tonalities and elements of Middle Eastern, Latin American and Central European styles in what Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra music director Jeffrey Kahane calls “one of the most beautiful, powerful and thrilling works that has been composed in the last half-century.” And this weekend, LACO performs Azul with the man for whom it was written, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who’s joined by fellow soloists Michael Ward-Bergeman, creator and master of the hyper-accordion; and percussionists Jamey Haddad and Keita Ogawa, all of whom are up to Azul’s superhumanly virtuosic challenges. Golijov himself has described Azul as a 21st-century Baroque adagio; an admirer of the Baroque masters’ ability to keep the movement going while suspending time in their music, Golijov began Azul as a reworking of his Ténèbrae for soprano and string quartet, a piece that had been inspired by François Couperin’s Leçons de Ténèbrae. In Azul, Golijov expands and contracts time, creating different levels of focus for the listener and a “sense of eternal serenity,” which evokes the open air and deep blue of the night sky and the lines of Pablo Neruda’s mystical poem, “The Heights of Machu Picchu”: “From air to air/like an empty net/I went wandering between the streets and the atomosphere/arriving and saying goodbye....” Also on the program: Gabriel Faure’s haunting Elegy and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Royce Hall, UCLA, Westwood, www.UCLALive.org; Sun., Jan. 11, 7 p.m. $50-$175. (213) 622-7001, ext. 215.

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