Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

California's Gold

December 06, 2009

John Adams, Leila Josefowicz, and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

Winning programs have been in short supply for the Los Angeles Philharmonic this Fall, so it was refreshing to catch the second of two new shows this weekend under the guidance of John Adams. It was the final show featuring the L.A. Philharmonic in the “West Coast, Left Coast” Festival celebrating California’s influence on classical music. And while this series has not been particularly well argued or planned over the last two weeks, the final show seemed to pull together a lot of the themes hinted at in earlier parts of the festival. There was cutting edge technology from Paul Dresher who opened the evening with Glimpsed from Afar, featuring the Quadrachord and Marimba Lumina, two instruments he helped create specifically to achieve their unique sound qualities a la Harry Partch. There was also more movie music - this time the real McCoy. Parts of Leonard Rosenman's score for Rebel Without A Cause was given a modernist treatment and sounded richer and darker than you might expect.

John Adams, Joseph Pereira, and members of the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Photo: mine 2009

But the evening belonged to two living composers and two inspired soloists. Before the break was William Kraft's Timpani Concerto No.1. Kraft, a composer, guest conductor, and former Principal Timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was given a loving reception from the audience and orchestra. Better yet, his music was played with real excitement and flair by the L.A. Philharmonic's current composer and Principal Timpanist Joseph Pereira. A handsome and sharp-dressed man to be sure, but as he whipped off the second pair of gloves in the movements first work, you know he meant business.

The big piece for the evening, however, was a return engagement of Adams’ own The Dharma at Big Sur, a sort-of concerto for electric violin that was commissioned for the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003. It was performed several times in that season with Tracy Silverman as soloist under the direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen and this was its first return to this stage. This time around it was played by Leila Josefowicz who is no stranger to contemporary works, and, more importantly, she’s probably the greatest current interpreter of Adams’ Violin Concerto. Josefowicz, along with Hilary Hahn and Janine Jansen, represent the best of contemporary violinists, and it is no surprise that in one fell swoop she made Adams' piece seem her own. The Dharma at Big Sur is a gorgeous piece of music that builds into a gigantic golden glow several times and sharply evokes the California coastline more than you'd think any piece of music could. It's crying, nearly South Asian feel is both instantly familiar and strangely from another world at the same time. The performance under Adams' own baton was certainly not as crisp as it could have been, and certainly has been under Salonen's former guidance. But this was still, a radiant evening of California originals.



Glad you liked "Dharma at Big Sur". I've only heard a recording but was surprised at how gorgeous the thing was after reading about its rather hostile reception during the Disney Hall inaugural concerts. (I think Adams mentioned revising the solo writing in his recent memoir because his original idea just didn't quite work.) For some reason, it still hasn't been performed in the San Francisco Bay Area so my envy is complete.
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