Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Carnival of Sorts

March 16, 2011

Unsuk Chin

Is Joseph Pereira your favorite musician in the Los Angeles Philharmonic? Well if not, maybe he should be. He’s certainly one of my (many) favorites with a string of adventurous performances in the orchestra’s “Green Umbrella” new music series. Last year he appeared barefoot and shirtless to perform Vinko Globokar’s Corpore in which his own body was the primary instrument. Next season, Pereira, the L.A. Philharmonic's Principal Timpanist, will premiere his own Percussion Concerto in conjunction with the orchestra. But on Tuesday, he was again opening up a show in a solo percussion piece, this time digging around in a box filled with multi-colored tissue paper. The piece was Unsuk Chin’s Allegro ma non troppo, which starts with the sounds of crumpled and torn paper that are soon augmented by processed versions of the same sounds on tape. Soon Pereira added to the paper with ticking clocks, water drops, and feather dusters brushing against gongs. The piece comes full circle to the paper again in the end, but there is an increasing intensity throughout from the electronic overlay. This is what I have always loved about the L.A. Philharmonic, its adventurous musicians paired with equally adventurous music, be it their own or others.

It was a strong start to a show that featured both the works of Chin as well as those of Swedish composer Anders Hillborg. After the opening piece, two works from Hillborg followed. Vaporized Tivoli for a small ensemble mimicked the sounds and music associated with a carnival with loud raucous moments mixed with an increasing malevolence that later dissipates into nothing. (Hence the “Vaporized” of the title.) This carnival of sorts had much in common with the playful spirit of so much of Chin's music and seemed well suited with the rest of the evening's offerings. Following the intermission was the very sad, though intensely beautiful, string quartet entitled Kongsgaard Variations. The work was commissioned by California friends of the composer’s and takes off from two bars of Beethoven’s final Piano Sonata. And, although Hillborg never quotes Beethoven directly, he manages to produce music that maintains some of the dignity and clarity of Beethoven’s work in his own.

The big finish to the evening again belonged to Chin with her small ensemble work Cantatrix sopranica. Here the focus is on high voices, two sopranos and one countertenor. Some of the eight sections in the work mimic Baroque opera while others reproduce the sounds of the Chinese opera. The work featured soloists Kiera Duffy, Audrey Luna, and Michael Maniaci and was conducted by Benjamin Schwartz as was Hillborg's larger work on the program. Chin cannot resist the good jokes this setting allows as some of the "songs" that make up this cycle also included shrieks, giggles and the vocalists mimicking the vocal sounds of warming-up. It was all immense fun and a good reminder that contemporary music is not always grim sincerity and intellectual sparring.


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