Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Great White North(ern Europe)

April 16, 2007

If I didn’t know how much Esa-Pekka Salonen loved this city and community I would think he was trying to rub salt in our wounds this week by going out of his way to highlight some of the things we will be missing in his absence as music director with the LA Phil. In between performances of the stupendous revival of “The Tristan Project” across the street, he "curated" a superlative program for the Monday Evening Concerts Series at Zipper Concert Hall tonight. He jokingly told the audience in brief pre-concert comments that while the composers he had invited weren’t necessarily young, they belonged to a group unusual here in LA – middle-aged Scandinavian composers. Specifically, the program contained two works from fellow Finnish composer Kimmo Hakola sandwiched between two others from Norwegian-born Rolf Wallin.

Rolf Wallin
Photo: Eli Berge
Wallin has made a name for himself by working with computer technology and mathematical approaches to composition. Heavily informed by European modernism, the two pieces here were wisely chosen representatives of his work. The concert opened with a piece for a small ensemble, The Age of Wire and String, a set of 8 miniatures with titles like “Dog, Mode of Heat Transfer in Barking” and “Food Costumes of Montana”. While not technologically innovative, the work was sly and under the direction of Magnus Martensson, played up to its witty best. The program closed with Lautleben, for solo voice with accompanying processed sounds and a video installation by Tone Myskja. Wallin has written works using balloons and “controller suits” but Lautleben takes a different approach. The piece is performed by Sidsel Endresen, a notable Norwegian vocal talent, who improvises a type of maniacal scatting in bursts over the top of a manipulated soundtrack of her own voice producing other sounds. All of this unusual vocalizing is accompanied by an abstract video installation that created sort of an ironic contrasting effect to the video accompaniment Bill Viola has developed for Wagner’s music just across the street. This music was certainly fun and engaging if not immediately memorable. Certainly worth another listen, though.

Kimmo Hakola
Photo: Saara Vuorjoki/Fimic 2006
In contrast, Kimmo Hakola, while not immune to the influence of European music of the last twenty years, is clearly more interested in more traditional forms not unlike what one might imagine a Scandinavian John Adams would be like. He had two works here – the Chamber Concerto for 5 strings, 4 winds, percussion and a piano; and Capriole, a duo for clarinet and cello. The five movements of the Concerto were both frenetic and lovely, and the group performing here was conducted by the composer himself. The piece ends with a rather majestic tone and was very well received by the audience. Capriole benefited from the virtuosic playing of Claire Bryant on cello and Carol McGonnell on clarinet who passed the alternately rhythmic and laconic melodies back and forth in what was surely the highlight of the evening.

In the end it was nice to have a visit from these two quite interesting composers even if it was a reminder that things may be getting a little less Nordic around here.

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