Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Hero worship

May 21, 2008

Thomas Adès, Ariana Ghez, and Bruce Hudson
Photo : mine 2008

Is it wrong to have a schoolboy crush on a composer? OK, well, how about a sustained artistic admiration? I’ll admit I’ve developed rather a high opinion of Thomas Adès over the last several years through his many visits to Los Angeles that seems to grow with each new encounter of his work. Wednesday continued that tradition with the first of two appearances he will make at WDCH with members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

So, how cool is this. In the midst of the Philharmonic’s “Baroque Variations” series, which typically features touring ensembles playing the usual Vivaldi, Handel, and the like, in pops Mr. Adès who throws all the usual trappings out the window to devote an entire evening to his own preoccupation with the work of French composer François Couperin. Adès accomplished this in two segments. In the first half of the program he played his own arrangements of Coperin’s works enlisting the help of the superb Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. These works clearly retained Couperin’s baroque melodies, but the structure and attack were radically altered with the orchestra divided into two halves passing the lines back and forth both in cooperative and at times oppositional fashion. The brief pieces suddenly felt amplified and alive in ways one might not typically expect from music of this period, but it was still clearly identifiable and very playful and amusing. The first half concluded with a work of Adès’ own, Sonata da caccia, completed when he was only 23 and intended as a cheeky homage to Couperin. Adès played the harpsichord himself with Ariana Ghez on oboe and Bruce Hudson on French horn. Again the quirky effect of a decidedly modern take on these Baroque forms was not only whimsical and amusing but rather insightful.

Thomas Adès and Tal Rosner
Photo : Clara Molden 2008

For the second half of the program, the games were put on hold as Adès shared Couperin’s music with the audience in its original format just as he himself enjoys it, by his report from the stage, everyday in his own home. Le Parnasse, ou L'apothéose de Corelli was followed by Troisième leçon de ténèbres which featured vocals by local talents Elissa Johnston and Christine Brandes. I think it is always exciting to see living composers talk about and perform the music that excites and inspires them. This is part of why Salonen is such a great conductor and Adès was clearly having fun as well. As with his recent appearances in New York, Adès prefaced these works with comments from the stage, about his own admiration for Couperin and what his own understanding of these compositions were. He was witty, unassuming and downright charming throughout. Adès will be back next week for a program of his own works including the U.S. premiere of a new commission, In Seven Days, a collaboration with video artist and Adès’ partner Tal Rosner, which recently debuted in London to generally positive reviews. Not to be missed.

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