Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Seems Like Old Times

January 21, 2011

Christina Pluhar of L'Arpeggiata

While our own beloved Los Angeles Philharmonic is off gallivanting around Europe, the Walt Disney Concert Hall hasn’t gone empty. On Tuesday, L’Arpeggiata, the ensemble formed and led by Christina Pluhar, arrived in Los Angeles for one of their trademark early music fusion performances. Pluhar and her band of players take a unique spin on the whole period practice movement in classical music. L’Arpeggiata is about much more than playing the music of Baroque composers on period instruments with period technique. The group is equally concerned about recreating some of the performance process from that era by incorporating more improvisation and personal perspective into the mix. But in this case, improvisation means much more than coming up with a cadenza for a Mozart piano concerto. Pluhar and her players are actively involved in creating new music themselves by riffing on the basic harmonic and rhythmic conventions of Italian, Spanish, and other folk music traditions. These would have been familiar to musicians of the Baroque period in their own performances and often individual ensembles and musicians would make their own interpolations of these basics a standard part of their repertory as opposed to simply playing someone else's music note for note.

Over half of the pieces in Wednesday’s performance were actually original contemporary songs that more or less sound as if they were written by the Baroque and early music composers on the program. The goal is not simply to create a facsimile of music from long ago but to incorporate some of the inventiveness and improvisation that was a hallmark of musical performance from the era in question. There was a uniformity of feeling to the show that was aided by the appearance of two soloists, vocalist Lucilla Galeazzi and dancer Anna Dego. The performance entitled “La Tarantella: Antidotum Tarantulae” was taken in large part from the group’s 2002 recording of the same name. Ms. Dego appeared regularly with her uninhibited movement in various dances from a Fandango to the titular Tarantella. Often she was joined by Ms. Galeazzi whose earthy sound fit perfectly with the folk overtones of her original songs of love, joy, and heartbreak. All the while Pluhar accompanied everyone on the theorbo, and her ensemble masterfully blurred the lines between European high art music and the more popular folk traditions that informed them.

There was lovely playing throughout, but I must admit as warm and friendly as the evening was, I felt it was a bit lost in the large and mostly empty expanse of Disney Hall on this evening. This is intimate music in a way, meant to be shared directly with others in a visceral manner. The show was well-meaning and accessible, but almost to a fault with a sound that bordered on the overly homogeneous despite its diversity of antecedents. But even if this lack of edge or variety hampered the show overall, the technique and musical commitment to the project cannot be ignored.


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