Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

A Touch of Adès

March 15, 2011

Thomas Adès Photo: Brian Voce

Be forewarned. The most important programming series of the 2010/2011 Los Angeles Philharmonic season is about to get underway. No it’s not the promised “unbinding” of Brahms to take place under Gustavo Dudamel in April and May with its rapidly disappearing number of new commissions that were to be paired with the composer’s major orchestra works. In fact, some of the most interesting music the orchestra members will likely play all year will take place as part of the “Aspects of Adès” series that was previewed on Monday night during a guest visit from the legendary Emerson Quartet. The L.A. Philharmonic has actively fostered an ongoing relationship with Adès, arguably one of the world’s most important living composers, welcoming him as both composer and conductor on numerous occasions. This season Adès takes on both roles in both his own as well as others' music. The series starts on April 1 with a weekend of performances of Adès’ In Seven Days with its accompanying video installation from Adès collaborator and partner Tal Rosner that was last seen here in May of 2008. In this concert it will be paired with Stravinsky’s Les noces and the Concerto for Two Pianos played by Katia and Marielle Labèque. Then on May 5 in conjunction with the L.A. Phil’s New Music Group, the composer will play his own piano paraphrase of his opera Powder Her Face and his Concerto Conciso alongside pieces from Ligeti and Nancarrow. The following weekend will bring two different programs. On May 7 and 8 Adès will lead the world premiere of the latest operatic work from Gerald Barry, a treatment of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Barry had a huge success in L.A. previously when Adès brought his The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit in 2006 and this return visit is a high priority. Adès’s visit with the L.A. Phil will conclude on April 9 with a single performance of his newest orchestra work Polaris again with video from Rosner paired with Messiaen’s Éclairs sur l’au-delà. It’s almost criminal that this final concert is a one-off performance (especially since I will be out of town for it), but you don’t have to miss out.

But before all of this, audiences got a sneak peak of “Aspects of Adès” in the strangest of places: an appearance by the Emerson String Quartet. Not that the esteemed quartet is an unusual ensemble for Adès’ music. But Adès new string quartet, The Four Quarters, was buried in perhaps the oddest of programs. The show also included Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor as well as a number of other works showcasing Sir James Galway on the flute. Galway is certainly no slouch, but the evening seemed to be reaching for pieces for the Emerson players and Galway to collaborate on including Mozart’s Flute Quartet in D major and Arthur Foote’s A Night Piece. Both of these provided Galway with plenty of room to show off his virtuosity as did Claude Debussy’s solo flute work, Syrinx. But the larger relationship between the flute works and Adès and Debussy music admittedly escaped me.

But any occasion for a new work from Adès is a worthwhile one, and The Four Quarters, which was receiving its West Coast premiere after a debut in New York the day before, continued to document this composer’s fascinating musical journey. The four movement quartet follows the course of a day opening from the rhythmic passing of notes between players in “Nightfalls” into the plucking pizzicato of “Morning Dew.” These were followed in succession by “Days” and finally “The Twenty-Fifth Hour,” which delivered progressively more and more complex time signatures and rhythmic elements. Despite all the fancy notation and complexity, the quartet, like much of Adès music, also manages to be rather accessible in a surprising way. The fact that the Emerson players are as seasoned as they are probably helps, of course. But if the mark of a successful new work is creating a desire to immediately hear it again in the listener, it was a winner in my book. It certainly seemed to provide an interesting complement to Debussy’s rich impressionism. Adès arrived to enthusiastic applause at the end of the performance of his quartet looking every bit the newly minted Angeleno in a black suit, bright red shirt, and sneakers. But while he may have looked every bit the unassuming composer, his impressive and important music bespeaks some exciting shows ahead.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?



Opera Reviews '10-'11

Opera Reviews '09-'10

Opera Reviews '06-'09

L.A. Phil Reviews '09/'10

L.A. Phil Reviews '08/'09

L.A. Theater Reviews


Follow Along


Los Angeles

Follow me on Twitter