Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Please Be Quiet, Please

September 12, 2010


Last week, I stopped by the Apple Store in Santa Monica for one of those in-store performances the company seems to make more and more out of these days, sometimes recording the sessions for release on iTunes and whatnot. In this case the occasion was a promo not only for Apple’s Garage Band software, but also for composer Nico Muhly and one of two new recordings of his music being released this month, A Good Understanding. (The other, a full length dance work, is called I Drink the Air Before Me which will come out on the 21st of September.) A Good Understanding features Muhly’s choral music, which is performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale under its director Grant Gershon, who was present on Wednesday with eight of the chorus members for some samples from the recording.

It’s a rather promising venture, and one that highlights the LAMC’s commitment to contemporary music under Gershon. The organization has fostered a significant relationship with Muhly over the last few years performing several of the works on A Good Understanding as part of their regular season. It would have been particularly exciting to hear them in Santa Monica if it wasn’t perhaps the worst possible venue to hear any music performed of any length given the horrible rabble of the store all around it. I sympathized fully with the LAMC and Muhly supporters who kept glowering at everyone else in the store during the under-amplified and under-considered presentation. (Note to Apple Store managers - why bother with an in-store music presentation if the very customers targeted to see it aren't going to be able to hear any of it?) But Gershon and the LAMC made the most of it and it certainly got me excited about their upcoming season opening performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall on the 26th.

As for Muhly, he is well meaning and quite exuberant in person, greeting individuals in the crowd on introduction with pronounced, quick bows like some stereotypical French maitre d'. He gave an excitable overview of his use of Apple software in his composition and talked about some of the inspirations for his choral music. As he also points out in some detail in the program notes of the new recording, he was heavily inspired by the traditional choral music and arrangements he sang in church as a child and incorporates many of the same strategies in his own work. The pieces on A Good Understanding are accessible and inventive if not earth-shattering. The music is decidedly straight forward preferring restrained emotion over grand gesture. A number of the works also feature organ accompaniment and are unabashedly sacred in content including settings of the Mass in Bright Mass with Canons as well as Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in a work called First Service. It suggests that he may have a flair for choral writing and one wonders what, if any, may creep up in his forthcoming operatic work Two Boys which is scheduled to appear at English National Opera next summer before a planned appearance at the Metropolitan Opera. Time will tell, but for now there is A Good Understanding to give us some hints.


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