Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Happy Anniversary

January 10, 2007

Salonen and members of the
LA Philharmonic New Music Group
Photo: mine
It was old home day in Los Angeles last night over at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Specifically, it was the third concert of the “Green Umbrella” series: programs focused on new music and recent compositions. What was originally intended to be a showcase for Dawn Upshaw, who was forced to back out of this and this coming weekend’s concerts for health reasons, had changed. Instead, the program morphed into a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s New Music Group complete with free wine and cheese. Most surprising of all, it was an honestly exuberant and celebratory atmosphere. Esa-Pekka Salonen was on hand and in comments from the stage he thanked his esteemed friend and Philharmonic benefactor, Ernest Fleischman, for helping to establish this series, which he also noted has become the envy and inspiration of music organizations across the country. (Apparently the "Green Umbrella" title was also Fleischman's idea, per Salonen's report to my partner. No real meaning to it, but more of a dada gesture.)

To celebrate, Salonen selected works from long-time personal friends, colleagues and mentors to him and the LA Phil, including Lutoslawski’s Chain 1, Donatoni’s Hot, Steven Stucky’s Nell'ombra, nella luce, and Salonen’s own Catch and Release presented here in its US premiere. Each was a gem in its own right from the “imaginary jazz” of Donatoni to the Stucky, which had been performed earlier this season in a chamber music event and shone even more wonderfully the second time around. Salonen of course got the anchor spot with the evening’s longest piece and it was hard not to share his excitement for this work scored for a nearly identical ensemble as Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat. He noted that this three-movement work was intended as a sort of paring for the Stravinsky and was developed from ideas that arose during the composition of his orchestral piece Insomnia but didn’t fit in because of their more ebullient nature. This is Salonen at his most whimsical and featured a Kurtág-esque sense of playfulness with a variety of musical games littered throughout the work.

The best part of the evening for me, though, was the overall joyous mood of both performers and audience. This was more than just another evening of musical performance. It was a reminder of how the Philharmonic and LA have grown together over time. Salonen and the Philharmonic have a real relationship with audiences here that has been hard won, and one gets the sense of how much everyone is enjoying the continuing and ongoing exploration together. Of course all good things must come to an end and surely this will one day too. But one thing is certain, it has been and will hopefully continue to be this much fun and I believe both audiences and the Philharmonic have come out the better for it.

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