Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Musique non stop

March 08, 2009

Julian Kuerti, M83, and the LA Philharmonic (with drum kit)
Photo: mine 2009

The programming folks over at the Los Angeles Philharmonic have displayed an unusual knack for coming up with one-off collaborations between the orchestra and a variety of younger non-classical acts in recent years. Performances from Joanna Newsom in 2007 and Grizzly Bear in 2008 with members of the orchestra were both exciting and provided an opportunity for these artists to dialog with their audiences and the world of classical music in different ways. Thus, this year’s collaboration with Anthony Gonzalez’ 80s-influenced French electronic pop outfit M83 was rightly anticipated, and it drew a very different audience from the usual Philharmonic crowd. Yet, while the show was enjoyable and often pretty, it was not a complete success. It was an ambitious undertaking that started off with a 30-minute solo set from Gonzalez and then two pieces from the Philharmonic. What goes with ersatz 80s synth pop you ask? Why Arvo Pärt and La Mer, bien sur. The conductor was Boston Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor Julian Kuerti, who drew good performances of both works from the ensemble. Pärt’s somber and minimal Fratres (for orchestra) provided an excellent complement to the ambient electronics that proceeded it and was a wise choice. The Debussy seemed less clearly related other than being a work that both Kuerti and Gonzalez apparently agreed on. It was a solid performance, though.

However, all of this was prelude to the final act of the show featuring a number of M83 songs with full orchestra accompaniment in addition to a small female chorus. The songs were very pretty and the orchestration did add to the electronic elements. But, sadly, having access to a world-class orchestra and knowing what to do with it are two very different things. Many of the orchestral arrangements were highly pedestrian and sometimes the work veered perilously into standard fare movie music with the horns and harp right where you’d expect to find them. But it wasn’t unpleasant and the response from the audience seemed warm if confused at times. This was more somber and ambient than beat driven overall, and the stop-start nature of the program never really allowed any of the individual segments to fully take hold. Just as one set was warming up, it was time to move on to the next segment. Still, with the track record the L.A. Philharmonic has with these collaborations, let’s hope they aren’t over yet.


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