Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Masterpiece Theater

January 17, 2007

The Los Angeles Philharmonic has long sponsored a chamber music series that has lived in a variety of homes over the years until the Disney Hall opened. Immediately prior to this, the series, which featured 8 programs of chamber works performed by members of the Philharmonic, took place in the Gindi Auditorium on the Westside campus of the University of Judaism. This was an intimate, if plain and industrial, setting for these often rousing performances. The new hall has changed all that for both the better and the worse. Many have complained that the acoustically marvelous hall is too large for these events, but as someone who attended them both before and after the move, the shows are no doubt much better attended than before. Of course, enlisting visiting stars to play pieces with the Phil members and offering free wine courtesy of whomever prior to each show for subscribers didn’t hurt. These shows can be hit or miss and are often populated by first-time audience members (i.e., lots of clapping between movements) and Mitchell Newman reminded everyone about proper etiquette before the start of the program containing two "materpieces of 20th century French music," Debussy’s String Quartet Op. 10 and Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps.

It’s nice to have a regular series of chamber works that highlight the individual talents of Phil members, but these are not set or recurring groups and often the performances lack the spirit a regularly performing small ensemble might provide. However, sometimes these shows are absolutely brilliant as was last night's program. Both of these small ensembles played with the requisite colorful tenor. The Messiaen was particularly moving and beautiful. It's pieces like these that leave me bewildered about the criticism that "modern music" is overly cerebral and often unemotional. I can think of few pieces as touching and moving as this one.

The Philharmonic players were all excellent and made clear why these pieces are in fact the masterpieces they were billed to be. I will here list all of the individual performers because they are the superstars behind the best chamber show the Phil has put on this year so far. The Debussy featured Elizabeth Baker and Mitchell Newman, violins; Meredith Snow, viola; and Gloria Lum, cello. The Messiaen had stellar performances from Lorin Levee, clarinet; Camille Avellano, violin; Barry Gold, cello; and visiting Cal Arts pianist extraodinaire Vicki Ray. Congratulations to all of them for a wonderful concert.

Next up at the Philharmonic, a John Adams Tribute.

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