Starting From Here
December wasn’t much; you get so many sing-alongs. One night, a young man of scholarly mien, Jonathan Biss, tried out his fingers, but not apparently his heart, on the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto at Disney. Afterward, he sat in front of me, and many people, rather rudely it seemed to me, crawled all over both of us, to holler out words like “magnificent” and hand out discs for Mr. Biss to sign. What did people really experience that night, beyond a lot of fingers moving quickly over a keyboard? Will they crawl over the next pianist, more discs in hand, when the next set of fingers go clickety-clack? And, meanwhile, why doesn’t someone take Mr. Biss, who is good-looking and rather young, out of circulation for a while, to allow him some time to think about that magical moment when Beethoven yanks us from G major to B, and the others that ensue?
Anyway, it’s January, not December, that I wanted to talk about. The Philharmonic has a fascinating adventure called “Concrete Frequency,” which, like most clusters of demanding musical experiences that interlink in some inscrutable way meaningful only to the program instigators, will also demand some kind of symposium to explain its meaning to the outside world. Such a symposium will be made accessible, admission free, on January 5, and since Frank Gehry is one of the explainers, you can at least count on charm, if not on enlightenment.
The point, as I understand it so far (subject to change), will be to explore the links between the structures of cities, the structures in architecture and the structures in music. These, we all know, are fashioned out of many materials: steel, concrete and psychological. Disney Hall and its surrounding structures have shaped the urban psychology of this city no less profoundly than the Forum shaped Rome. It would be late for “Concrete Frequency” to rub our awareness in this; it will be fascinating to trace the way the consciousness of buildings has guided the pens of composers like Aaron Copland, Edgard Varèse, and Charles Ives, in whose Central Park piece a consciousness of the space between buildings has also worked its magic.
All this is crowded onto the January page of my wall calendar, barely leaving room for the rest of an uncommonly ambitious start for our musical life. Along with the Philharmonic’s five or six actual concerts in that series, there’s a related festival of classic films concerned with lives being shaped by big-city existence (as if there are any that aren’t!) — harrowing experiences like Taxi Driver, when you do actually feel the walls closing in. They’re at the ArcLight.
Then there’s the next Monday Evening Concert on the 7th, with the excellent, fearless singer Susan Narucki and our own local group XTET. Hail, too, the return, on January 19, of one of L.A. Opera’s most stunning productions, the David Hockney setting of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, created when Hockney had become intoxicated with the Chandler Pavilion’s new Lumilite lighting and worked out a blend of illumination and painted surface to create a visual hypnosis that nobody working at the house has achieved since that original 1987 production. John Treleaven and Linda Watson are the lovers; I heard them last month in Munich’s goofy production, and . . . hmm. But James Conlon conducts, and that’s hurrah.
Hurrah, too, for Olivier Messiaen, an easy step from Tristan’s flaming passions to the sunset glow of his Utah mountainscape, as From the Canyons to the Stars fills the January 15 “Green Umbrella” and the indefinable majesty of Quartet for the End of Time continues the “Jacaranda” concerts’ homage at the month’s end.
And Ending Here
The inevitability, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s final season, ’08-’09, as the Philharmonic’s music director — then continuing as friendly neighbor — has been planned as a gathering, in part, of the great musicians who have been close to him in his years here and before. That would include Kaija Saariaho, whose La Passion de Simone will surely, after several postponements, finally appear, with Dawn Upshaw as soloist. Guesswork would include on that list other musicians — composer Magnus Lindberg, cellist Anssi Karttunen, perhaps that marvelous chamber ensemble Toimii, which played a few years back at Ojai. We already know that Yefim Bronfman comes, in May, to play Salonen’s new Piano Concerto; the lucky ones among us have already gotten to hear its power, breadth and magnificence via one kind of download or another. And as for the final, ultimate, last of all (until the next time, at least): The heavy money so far seems to favor the Mahler Eighth . . . known, for good reason, as the “Symphony of a Thousand.”
One matter of celebration doesn’t exactly concern Salonen’s departure, but it surely involves some kind of departure in the ranks of high culture. Specifically, it involves The Soloist, a film by Joe Wright based on articles by Steve Lopez that ran in the L.A. Times in 2005, which if you didn’t read you should have. They told of Nathaniel Ayers, homeless, schizophrenic onetime expert player of many string instruments, whom Lopez befriended and eventually enabled to attend a Disney Hall rehearsal (of the Beethoven “Eroica,” no less!), meet Esa-Pekka Salonen, get his autograph and play his own cello in the hall. Jamie Foxx plays Nathaniel in the movie; Esa-Pekka plays himself.
Does this all sound, mayhap, as if the next continental shift will be from the sacred realm of the Music Center at First and Grand to the profane expanse of Hollywood and Vine? Consider this: The two opening offerings next September for the Los Angeles Opera season are as follows: Puccini’s Il Trittico, with the separate parts of the “triptych” staged by Hollywood directors William Friedkin and Woody Allen; and The Fly, U.S. premiere of the opera, music by film composer Howard Shore, libretto by David Henry Huang, directed by Hollywood’s David Cronenberg, conducted by Plácido Domingo.
Still to be decided: which major downtown culture palace gets the popcorn concession.