Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The Pieter Priniciple

January 21, 2009

Lionel Bringuier and members of the L.A. Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

With the last two weeks of programming from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, one would wonder why we need a separate “new music” series at all. With three new commissions and an orchestra generally known for its skill with 20th and 21st century music, a separate weekday series devoted exclusively to these works would almost seem beside the point. Of course, it isn’t though, and the “Green Umbrella” series continues to be the most exciting and worthwhile programming the L.A. Philharmonic does. Tuesday was the latest show in the series with an amalgam of works with little relationship to one another other than their ability to showcase the talents of the various members of the Philharmonic, the respective composers, and assistant conductor Lionel Bringuier who led the evening (sporting a rather fetching new haircut with appropriately hot new head shots to match—this is L.A. after all).

The show was mostly dedicated to a performance of Louis Andriessen’s De Stijl, which has graced the Green Umbrella stage once before. It’s a choral work meant to reflect on the work of Piet Mondrian and sets a text consisting of mathematical principles for four vocalists and a small ensemble of pianos, electric guitars, percussion and brass with saxophones and flute thrown in for good measure. This performance followed closely on the heels of Andriessen’s double piano concerto, The Hague Hacking, which premiered over the weekend. De Stijl contains a spoken interlude in which an anecdote about Mondrian is recalled by a narrator and the speaker, Susan Narucki, made the most of Disney Hall by entering from the back with separate lighting and wandering through the crowd for a dramatic entrance. This sort of mixing of dialog, vocal writing and music is key to several of Andriessen's works and again reminded me of his La Comedia which appeared in Amsterdam last summer. De Stijl relies on popular music idioms as much as anything else from the history of Western art music and even when it threatens to break out into full fledged rock, it falls just short, bringing you back to the start. Bringuier led a very enthusiastic and sharp performance of the piece that was serious without being overly dramatic.

The first part of the evening was no less interesting, starting with a work from Estonia's other famous living composer Erkki-Sven Tüür. Architectonics III (postmetaminnimalism) was originally commissioned by our own hometown California EAR Unit and proved rather exciting here in the hands of the Philharmonic members who made the most of its loud and upbeat tone. The work shares little with the work of Tüür's countryman Pärt, but actually did have a rather stately and epic quality to it I rather admired. The evening also included Steven Mackey's Ars Moriendi, a string quartet reflecting on the composer's experience surrounding the death of his father. The nine movements of varying length can be discordant at times, less so at others, and had an satisfying way of shifting between impressionistic and literal ideas. It was moving, substantial, and quite well played.

All in all it was another winning night of new music at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The big question now is, will the lines between the headline weekend programs and the "Green Umbrella" evenings continue to be blurred by the Philharmonic, or will the coming seasons under new music director Gustavo Dudamel stick new music in the ghetto of a handful of Tuesday nights? We should have some of the answers soon when Dudamel appears with L.A. Philharmonic President Deborah Borda on Thursday the 22nd to announce programming for the 09/10 season. If you want to see the cold hard facts for yourself, the press conference will be webcast live at 1:30pm PST.


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