Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Good-bye old friends

November 13, 2006

Reinhard Goebel, left and members of Musika Antiqua Köln

Southern California has had a couple of notable good-byes for those working in the "historical practices" vein recently that are worth noting. On November 7, Musika Antiqua Köln’s farewell tour rolled into the Walt Disney Concert Hall for what was generally a well-received evening. As has been widely reported, this tour has not included the group's founder Reinhard Goebel who has been sidelined due to health issues, which have also brought about the demise of the group. The program focused on Bach (J.S. of course) and several other compositions by lesser known members of his family including, great-uncle Heinrich and his son Johann Christoph.
Marijana Mijanovic
Photo: Robert Jan Stokman, Amersfort

The group was accompanied by contralto Marijana Mijanovic who joined them for J.S. Bach's "Widerstehe doch der Sünde" from Cantata, BWV 54 as well as arias from JC and Jan Dismas Zelenka. Her very low voice often seemed under the contorl of other worldly forces more than her own, but given the fire and brimstone/sin and death material, maybe that is a good fit after all. The group's focus on a seemingly endless world of undiscovered Baroque gems and the joy they bring will surely be missed.

Others will carry on this tradition, however, including the English Concert who appeared with their soon-to-be-leaving director Andrew Manze down in the OC in the new Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall on October 30. Unlike Musika Antiqua, the English Concert will continue under the guidance of Baroque specialist Harry Bicket. (Bicket will be in town next month to head up LA Opera's staging of Montiverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea) As much as I like Manze for his user-friendly approach and self-deprecating humor on stage, it may well be time for a change. The Concert's montone color-coordinated "up with people" image could use an upgrade and Bicket may be just the man for the job.
Photo: The English concert

This program was mostly Mozart (what else), which was bright and well-played. The biggest detriment here was the Hall (what else). With the "reverberation chambers" open, the room sounded more like a subway or a men's room than anything else. But more disappointing than the plastic on the carpet or the clear evidence of ongoing construction, was the majority of empty seats in the house. Granted it was a Monday, but this is the second concert I've seen in the new Hall where it was under 20% full. In the first two years after the WDCH opened, it was difficult to get seats to almost any show on any day of the week given the interest in seeing the new building. It's really a shame to waste such a nice building as the Segerstrom Concert Hall on a community that isn't apparently ready to support it or the music performed inside. If the idea is that the building will generate interest in the music inside, from the looks of things, there's a long way to go down in the OC.

Perhaps the greatest irony however is what this may say about public funding for the arts. Segerstrom is largely a private enterprise supported by funds from the personal fortunes and built on private land. WDCH, while certainly far from a totally publicly funded venture has relied on significant support from LA County. Who knows maybe civic pride and people's sense that their taxes actually helped pay for the building incline them be more interested in the outcome. Of course these are broad and unfair generalizations, but it's my blog and I'll overstate the case if I want to.

Then again, none of the Baroque music performed on either night was originally commissioned by anyone other than a wealthy private patron of the arts, so go figure.

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