Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Sometimes It Snows in April

April 26, 2011

Michel Galante and the musicians for MEC on 4/25/11 Photo: mine 2011

Even here in Los Angeles. Or at least it did in a way at the final Monday Evening Concerts program of the season, which presented a single musical piece, Hans Abrahamsen’s Schnee, or Snow. And while it isn’t clear to me that this just over an hour-long work has much to do with the weather, it certainly is related to the passage and marking of time. In particular, Abrahamsen uses the piece to explore musical canons. But before this got under way, there was a short video piece from artist Rick Bahto entitled Cave Creek. Winter canon. 2011. Bahto has worked extensively with 8mm film and Cave Creek consisted of three film loops exhibited side-by-side simultaneously. All three were shot in Cave Creek, Arizona, during the winter and capture elements of the beautiful landscape as Bahto follows a series of physical actions while filming resulting in broad circular sweeps and other movement of the typically static landscape. He filmed the same sequence three times resulting in the three separate loops thus creating a sort of visual canon when played back at the same time. The vague black and white images reminded me of the kind of graphic design 23 Envelope did for the 4AD label in the 1980s. Sadly, the work didn't come off completely well when one of the projectors failed to work on Monday leaving the audience with only two of the three images.

Still, the point about the movement of time and canons meshed well with Abrahamsen's Schnee. The work grew out of the composer's arrangement of canons from J.S. Bach for another project that inspired him to create pairs of his own canons following an invitation for a new work from ensemble recherche. Schnee is divided into five pairs of canons that mirror one another with each pair becoming progressively shorter over the course of the work. The effect is to mimic the passage of time over a life span with things moving more quickly as one goes further on in years. The sections are divided by three Intermezzi during which the players systematically tune down some of their instruments by fractional steps to create microtonal effects. There are two separate teams of musicians separated by a percussionist on stage with each team anchored by a piano and consisting either of strings or wind instruments. The canons are passed back and forth between these groups enhancing the mirrored images of the sections. The sound can be delicate with halting rhythms or more involved with flurries inspired by the work of Mozart. At times it does give a wintry feel and as the work continues, time does seem to both expand and telescope, a phenomenon familiar to those who have lived through a snow-filled winter. (You can get a feel for this with the video above.) Michel Galante, the director of the Argento Chamber Ensemble, served as conductor for the evening. He's well known to MEC audiences and he proved as insightful with these local players as with his own New York-based ensemble. It was a lovely, often quiet piece and perhaps an odd choice to conclude a season for Monday Evening Concerts. But with playing this good for a piece not heard on the West Coast before, it's hard to argue. Here's looking forward to the return of the MEC series later this fall.


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