Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

All By Myself

November 16, 2010

Alexei Lubimov at MEC Photo: mine 2010

On Monday, Los Angeles’ home for contemporary classical music, Monday Evening Concerts, returned to Zipper Concert Hall downtown for its new season. The occasion was marked with a piano recital from Alexei Lubimov and was dedicated to the recently-passed legendary promoter of all things musical in L.A. (including MEC), Ernest Fleischmann. Lubimov, who made his name bucking authority in the former Soviet Union by playing frowned upon Western contemporaries like Cage and Ligeti, was the ideal choice for a show honoring a man who certainly went his own way advocating for the future of music here in L.A. The program was a thoughtful and intelligent one entitled “The Messenger” that Lubimov had also performed in New York last week as part of the Lincoln Center’s “White Light Festival.” The nine short solo works on the bill covered three centuries of music from C.P.E. Bach and Chopin to Cage, Galina Ustvolskaya, and Valentin Silvestrov. Lubimov has made wonderful recordings of these 20th-century composers as well as the likes of Arvo Pärt on the ECM label, and are all worthy of a listen.

Lubimov’s playing is crisp and clean and above all else quite meditative in this context. But what I admired most about the program was his intention to go beyond simply pointing out musical similarities between the works from different centuries. Instead, as he noted in his own translated program notes, he was looking for something different that unfurled or played out across the 9 pieces, played without an intermission. Central to this was the concept that all of the selections were written in the most personal way, solely for the satisfaction of the composer him or herself. He invited the audience to think of them as “a diary not meant for publication, in which you note down only what is most personal.” The point, however, is not to learn something about each composer’s inner psychology, but instead to examine the process of self-exploration itself.

Some of the short works like C.P.E. Bach’s Fantasia in F-sharp minor sound as if they could have been written sometime in the last two decades, while others, such as Georgs Pelecis’ Suite No. 3 from 1985 could sound particularly Classical in manner. But there was always another layer in the works and their performance that addressed the idea of communication with the past. This could be quite literal at times as with the intensely beautiful Nostalgia of Tigan Mansurian from 1976. Not all of the personal musical reflections were wistful, though. Galina Ustvolskaya’s Sonata No. 6 consists primarily of chords and notes played with forearms and open hands pounding on the keyboard at ffff. This rageful cry was broken by the veritable church bells of Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina. The cycle ended with Valentin Sivestrov’s The Messenger, a set of Mozart-inspired vignettes played on a completely closed piano like some mammoth, sad music box. The music is both familiar but distant at the same time and represents what Lubimov argues in his notes a refutation of oblivion stating “it is enough to fling a window open, to strike a match, to look at a cloud, to hear a triad, for memories…to start working a miracle.” Hearing Lubimov play these works was a kind of miracle, one that reinforced how even the most jarring and discordant of contemporary sounds, ones that are often ascribed to modern malaise and dysphoria, have just as much to say to us about hope and the possible. And it was a wonderful start to another season of Monday Evening Concerts.


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