I LOVE MY EDITOR AND I LOVE MY
job, but the one problem is that I often run out of space before I run out of breath. Herewith, therefore, a chronological sampling (far from complete) of recent events noted in passing but not yet in print:
January 9: Eric Huebner at LACMA. This phenomenal young pianist with the flaming red thatch graduated from the Crossroads School, went on to Juilliard and has become a Most Valuable Player on the New York new-music scene. His recital here, in the free Sunday-afternoon series at the County Museum, included Karlheinz Stockhausen's Piano Piece X, a wild half-hour of full-arm tone clusters and the like, dazzling and exhilarating. These concerts are broadcast live on KKGO, whose head, Saul Levine, has promised his listeners none of this contemporary stuff, and I fully expected to see him rush down the aisle with wire clippers. Fortunately, he must have been otherwise engaged. Keep your eye on young Huebner; he's no more than 20, and he's on his way.
January 10: California EAR Unit at LACMA. Fourteen itty-bitty pieces, all but one a world premiere, all over the stylistic map and mostly (but not entirely) forgettable. The Delta Blues by blithe-spirit trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith remains in the memory; so does a charmer by EAR Unit member Robin Lorentz; so does the closing Some Variations on a Theme of Sol Bright, an audience-participation free-for-all
by EAR Unit alumnus and sometime
conductor Stephen L. (“Lucky”) Mosko. Even more surprising, however, was the
Preview by LACMA's heroic music director Dorrance Stalvey: warm-hearted, witty music, free from the academic manipulations I've heard in some of his earlier scores.
January 18: Vicki Ray's “Piano Spheres” concert at Pasadena's Neighborhood Church. It ended with the De Profundis by the remarkable musician/activist Frederick Rzewski: tense, inescapable music that requires the pianist to speak passages from Oscar Wilde's heartbreaking prose poem of that name between musical outbursts. It's gratifying to watch the steady growth of the audience for this valuable five-concert series, a tribute to the five pianists involved, including founding paterfamilias Leonard Stein, who plays on Bach's birthday, March 21.
January 25: The Green Umbrella at Japan America. Following his astounding
series at LACMA, percussion man-of-all-hands Steven Schick returned, sharing visions this time with cellist Maya Beiser and, as before, pushing further back the limits of what music can be, and how we are reached by it.
January 31: Vinny Golia Large Ensemble at LACMA. “Basically,” writes jazz saxophonist/composer Golia, “the Large Ensemble is a chamber orchestra that can improvise . . . not a jazz big band [but] a merging of forms.” Thirty-four players are listed, so “large” is obviously right. You had to listen with both sides of the brain, and when you did — or at least when I did — the sheer energy lifted you out of your seat.
FEBRUARY 3: PHILHARMONIA BAROQUE Orchestra at Irvine Barclay. If you know Jordi Savall from his wondrously passionate viola da gamba performances on discs and in the treasurable film Tous les Matins du Monde — as, indeed, you should — you're still missing another side of his talent. This night he led the splendid Bay Area early-music band in performances of Bach's four Orchestral Suites that were like miracles of re-creation: the winds in their earnest conversations on unnamed matters of terrific importance in the first of the set; the trumpets and drums violating the rafters in the last two; the magical flute summoning us all to the dance in No. 2. (All four, under Savall, are available on the Astrée label, distributed by Harmonia Mundi.) At the end of the Aria from No. 3, the familiar “Air on the G String,” the capacity audience held a silence so complete, so reverent, that you could feel it in your bones. So much for Orange County and its reputation for cultural dumbness.
February 12: Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra at Wilshire Ebell. Lucinda Carver's small ensemble (drawn from the impressive local pool of studio players) has earned its place, and it usually does quite well by its namesake composer — as, this time, in a reading of a bouncy early divertimento. At the end came the winsome delights of Britten's Simple Symphony — simple but not simple-minded. A brave try at Schoenberg's Transfigured Night, its original six strings multiplied by three, fared less well; there was the wrong kind of tension here, as if the players had not yet gotten hold. At intermission there were snacks and drinks outside, but also a PA system with Bruckner at full blast, destroying whatever one might have wanted to take away from the first part of the concert.
February 18: Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Dorothy Chandler. The last time I heard Midori here, in April of '96, I thought I had detected a growth out of her earlier brat-prodigy stage. Maybe so, but then she has chosen badly in selecting the Dvorák Violin Concerto for her current tour piece. It's a weak score anyhow, given to pompous buildups to events that never transpire. Midori had nothing to give it, and the fault may not be entirely hers. In any case, neither she nor guest conductor David Zinman, and neither the Dvorák nor the Brahms Fourth Symphony, could rescue one of the Philharmonic's gloomier (if better-attended) evenings.
OBITER DICTUM: LITANY TO THUNDER, another of those marvelous ECM discs of music from the far (and colder) side of the moon, is now at hand and irresistible. The composer is Estonia's Veljo Tormis (b. 1930); the performances are by the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir under Tonu Kaljuste — who by now, after many recordings, should be everybody's close friends. The presentation — black-and-white landscapes and cloudscapes swept by fitful, cold winds — is vintage ECM. (Look at any of their releases, and you'll see why it's difficult to stop writing about this label.) The music, I read in Tormis' notes, is inspired by Estonian Runo-Songs, with texts dating back to ancient rituals including shamanism and melodic lines that reflect the repetitive recitations in the poems. The superb small chorus adds to the sense of dark, distant mystery; a solo voice here, an insistent summoning on bass drum there — it all comes together. You think this music is something light and undemanding, perhaps to be heard while doing the dishes. But then you have to put down the dishes and surrender. Eat yer heart out, Brahms!