Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Space (I believe in)

February 17, 2009

Michel Galante with the Argento Chamber Ensemble
Photo: mine 2009

It’s raining and relatively cold on this President’s Day in L.A., but despite these inclement conditions a SOLD OUT crowd showed up at the Zipper Concert Hall downtown for one incredible program from the Monday Evening Concerts Series. The occasion was appearances from two local favorite ensembles, red fish blue fish and the Argento Chamber Ensemble in an evening of works by Gérard Grisey. Argento was also involved in last year's fantastic Helmut Lachenmann prgram, so perhaps it's no wonder that there would be such a crowd. Say what you will about Angelenos, but we love our spectralist composers. I mean really, who knew? But there the organizers were, holding up the start of the show trying to put every last person they could in a seat before turning people away. This delay proved to be the only negative moment in the show as it forced me to continue to hear the inane grad-student conversation about theory (non-musical) and such from the well-meaning but ultimately unemployable pack behind me.

Luckily with the arrival of red fish blue fish, the evening glowed to a start with Grisey’s Tempus ex Machina for six percussionists. Grisey, like his fellow spectralists, is interested less in specific notes than in sound phenomena as a whole and the cacophony of noise that oscillates and spins out when any kind of specific sound is produced to begin with. Thus bass drums, snares and gongs echoed one another in an often loud dialog that shimmered and rattled, creating a sort of warm language one usually doesn’t associate with these instruments. The six performers were stationed in various locations around the audience in the auditorium enhancing the effect. It was frankly quite remarkable.

Afterwards, the Argento Chamber Ensemble under Michel Galante offered up the first part of Les Espaces Acoustiques, a piece structured in three sections that grows out of a 15 minute viola solo to progressively encompass ever larger numbers of performers until it reaches a chamber ensemble. (The second part continues to grow into a full orchestra.) In this hour long part, Grisey employs a similar strategy to that already described along with a handful of more humorous elements, including a riff on the sequence of notes most string players use to tune their instruments, a climax of rattled paper, a threatened (but never completed) cymbal crash and musicians noisily packing up their instruments. The beauty of Grisey’s writing comes from its recognition of the music inherent in all sounds. There’s something expected and rhythmic about all of this—like breathing. Or, better yet, like snowflakes with each phrase or passage remarkably similar to the last, but at the same time its own individual, distinct from all its forerunners. Leave it to the MEC organizers to put together yet another show of such high quality. Next up is a not-to-be missed organ recital from Charlemagne Palestine in March.


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