Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Le Prophete

November 14, 2008

Thomas Adès and the LA Philharmonic Photo: mine 2008

The Los Angeles Philharmonic is back in town as of last week for a series of shows stretching until the holidays. This is the doldrums of the season until Salonen returns for a series of farewell concerts that will take place in January and April. (In fact, there is a lovely new micro-site celebrating his history with the L.A. Philharmonic in great detail that is worth taking a look at.) But until then there are a few gems here and there, and no, they are not the over-hyped Dudamel-led performances in early December. In fact this weekend features perhaps one of the most exciting L.A. Philharmonic shows of the year – a return appearance from the young British composer Thomas Adès. Given his many recent visits to Los Angeles, it is no surprise this program is so good. Adès is sort of a thinking man’s Nico Muhly, (or perhaps a more talented Mark Adamo) who currently has the mantle of great British musical hope placed about his shoulders by a press that likes to write about such things. However, as this evening’s program in L.A. suggested, Adés owes much more to Berlioz than to Britten.

The composer led an evening of short works from the French composer as well as the Los Angeles premieres of two of his own, America: A Prophecy and his symphonic commission for the Berlin Philharmonic, Tevot. In some ways the pieces couldn’t be more different. The former was commissioned by the N.Y. Philharmonic to commemorate the new millennium and Adès used the opportunity to set a prophetic Mayan text about the potential destruction of one’s culture by invading forces. While the reference is about the decline of the Mayan culture with the arrival of the Spanish in Latin America, the composer himself noted how the warning to “prepare” for a coming destroyer from without has taken on a very different sense in the intervening years since it’s premiere in 1999. It is quite a dark and anxiety-provoking work and it doesn’t allow much room for sunshine. However, it is also quite poignant and beautiful. The vocalist for the piece was the able mezzo-soprano Mary Nessinger, but the real star was the superb Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Adès's other major work on the program, Tevot, concerns the concept of an ark and simultaneously references Noah's ark, the planet earth as an ark in space, and most interestingly the musical bar as an ark of notes. I know it sounds a bit precious, but the broad swelling rumblings that stretch throughout the 25 minute single movement work are gorgeous and create a real sense of movement reminiscent of ... well... Britten? To be fair, there is much more dream-like quality to Tevot than the staunch clarity of Britten, and the Adès' french connection holds much more of the salty sea water being sloshed about. It's a majestic and profound work, and we're fabulously lucky to have a composer of this stature back in Los Angeles with such a wonderful program. It repeats Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and you should definitely go.



Bought tickets to the Sunday concert to supplement my regular Sat. matinee subscription series, and was I glad I did.
The Tevot was sensational.
Thought Mark Swed's review was also one of his best at conveying my feelings about the concert.
The Marsellaise to begin the concert really got things started properly, and upon hearing the words(seeing them actually in supertitle format) really brought about a new mantra for the Obama administration - W could have learned much, yet alas...
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