Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Funny Face

December 10, 2008

Pablo Heras-Casado with members of the LA Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2008

I’ve been remiss about writing about Tuesday’s “Green Umbrella” program sponsored by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, so before I move on, I just wanted to mention how great the performance of Ligeti’s Aventures and Nouvelle Aventures was. The evening was a grab bag of late-20th century compositions including Berio’s Sequenza V, Stockhausen’s Kontra-Punkte and Cage’s Sonata and Interludes for Prepared Piano. This was all fine and well (especially James Miller’s clown-suited take on the Berio) but it was the Ligeti that stood out.

Pablo Heras-Casado led the small ensemble, which essentially consists of three vocalists - here represented by Kiera Duffy, Mary Nessinger, and Eugene Chan – and a small back-up band of piano, harpsichord, horn, flute, cello, bass and percussion. The vocals aren’t settings of actual texts, but series of expressive nonsense sounds that often represent various emotional states or actions. Performers gasp, laugh, shriek, cry, gurgle, and whimper in a score with as much stage direction for them as notes. Around them the musicians beat carpets, pop paper bags, and create a general cacophony. It’s very amusing and surprisingly beautiful. The quality of the vocal performances was excellent with just the right balance of irreverence and respect for the music. The work of course presages Ligeti’s operatic writing for Le Grand Macabre and it made me sad that it may be a long time before I get to see that work again.


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