Conlon Nancarrow Photo: Betty Freeman
Tuesday brought the next installment in the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s “Aspects of Adès” Festival to Walt Disney Concert Hall. This was a “Green Umbrella” program, the increasingly rudderless new(er) music series that has traditionally drawn comparatively huge crowds for this kind of programming for a major U.S. orchestra. But on Tuesday there was no leadership vacuum, even if just for that night, when composer, conductor, and pianist Thomas Adès thrilled the audience with performances in all three of those roles. The evening cast a very wide net with musical offerings that my friend Robert likened to an old-fashioned musical salon with a little bit of something for everyone. It was amazing how well so much of the show worked.
Things began with Adès alone at the piano playing a recently constructed piano paraphrase of his own 1995 opera Powder Her Face
. And while the fifteen minute work was clearly musically related to the opera, this paraphrase was much more than a regurgitation. The work harkens back to the kind of keyboard virtuosity Liszt regularly displayed in similar exercises for his audiences, augmenting a recognizable opera score with huge washes of other complementary ideas. It was a barn-burner and a great kick off to the evening. This was quickly followed by Ligeti’s Sippal, dobbal, nádihegedüvel
for mezzo-soprano and percussion. The So Percussion ensemble, armed with a dizzying variety of gongs, marimbas, slide whistles and harmonicas supported vocalist Katalin Károlyi for whom the piece was originally written. These seven compact songs are concise and humorous, often using the voice in a similar rhythmic fashion as the various percussion instruments. The penultimate song, Keserédes, plops an intense folk song right in the mix for contrast in a piece brimming with humor. (Károlyi will also appear in the world premiere of Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest
later this week in the part of Gwendolen Fairfax.)
But before we got a breather, Adès returned accompanied by pianists Nicolas Hodges and Gavin DeTurck who each took part in one of Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano
. The twist here is that there was no player piano. Instead, Adès arranged the works for two pianos, breaking out the layered, rhythmically complex lines in each study into separate parts playable on two different keyboards. The energy was brilliant and the pieces were very enthusiastically received by the crowd. All of this was also accompanied by video from Tal Rosner, as has most of Adès’ own music he has selected for this festival, including last weekend’s In Seven Days
and the local premiere of Polaris which will occur on Saturday night
. Again, the players were wired with earbuds to feed them a click-track to tightly coordinate the music with changes in the video. As with last weekend, the video could be a bit overwhelming with its tight synchronicity, but the technical aspects of the musical performance were outstanding for music that wasn’t written to be performed in this kind of context.
The rest of the evening was devoted to two works for a small chamber ensemble calling upon several members of the L.A. Phil New Music Group. The first was the world premiere of Piedras
from Spanish composer and Adès protogée Francisco Coll. This was followed by Adès’s own Concerto Conciso
, one of his earliest works written at an age not too far off from Coll’s own. The works had much in common with rhythmically intricate underpinnings covered with a wild array of disorganized sounds raging above them. Admittedly, it's hard to get a grip on first performances of new works and in pieces that prize a free-wheeling flurry of sound to a sense of control. Still, I felt both works seemed a little loose and under-rehearsed compared with what one might expect with the energy flagging and getting bogged down along the way. But with all the good will still streaming in from the first half, the show on balance was yet more evidence of Adès’ smarts and sheer talent. And if you haven’t been getting excited about this weekend’s upcoming performances, maybe now is the time you should.
Labels: LA Philharmonic 10/11