Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

The Out-of-Towners — Music Edition

October 25, 2007

Russian Patriarchate Choir
This has been a big week for out-of-town guests of a variety of stripes on Los Angeles concert stages. Take for instance Monday’s program at UCLA’s Royce Hall where we were honored with only the second U.S. performance ever from the Russian Patriarchate Choir. This ensemble, founded in 1983 by director Anatoly Grindenko, has made a name for themselves with performance of polyphonic sacred choral music from the Russian Orthodox Church. They have made particular efforts in reviving and interpreting Medieval scores and made a number of noted recordings of these works in the early 90s. Apparently the performance from the 10 member all-male ensemble was a bit of a close call according to UCLA Live program director and Greg Probst-lookie-likey David Sefton who announced that a number of the choristers had arrived in LA from their Moscow flight within only the last two hours prior to going on stage. Additionally, another 3 members didn't make it to the show at all. Luckily those who did make it gave a rich and wonderful performance. The evening covered a wide array of periods and material including some Russian folksongs and it was mildly frustrating in that no specific program details were provided to the general audience. The group had a beautiful tone and the evening provided ample opportunities for many of the performers to offer substantial solos. Although much choral music is sacred in nature, rarely have I heard something filled with so much spirit. Alternately dark and light, these works were most reminiscent of early-American negro spirituals – filled more often than not with equal amounts of joy and sorrow. All of this was further augmented by some unusual staging arrangements. Since the program took place in Royce Hall on a day off from the current Royal Shakespeare Company productions of King Lear and The Seagull the massive stage set resembling a decaying castle was left standing. While certainly not religious in nature, the set provided the proceedings with some further Medieval overtones. The group will be traveling to Costa Mesa and Berkeley later this week.

Meanwhile an ensemble of a very different nature arrived at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday in the opening performance of the “International Youth Orchestra Festival” being sponsored by the LA Philharmonic. Finland’s own pride and joy the Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra was led by one of their most famous alumni, Esa-Pekka Salonen, in a program including Magnus Lindberg’s Chorale, Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 5 and Sibelius’ own Lemminkainen Suite. It was Finnish pride night in LA and Salonen was radiant, beaming with excitement over a task he was obviously enjoying. The performances were quite strong overall, particularly the Sibelius which showed an exemplary level of dynamics and dark, brilliant tones from such a young group of musicians including the piano soloist, Juho Pohjonen, a young man with a surprisingly sophisticated sound. And an interesting group it was too. Very blond and very female with women outnumbering men more than 3 to 1 even in the bass sections. When’s the last time you’ve seen anything like that on a US stage? Of course all of this was marred somewhat by absolutely atrocious audience behavior. The crowd was clearly younger than normal and while filled with youthful enthusiasm, the audience seemed to be unable to get its fill of hearing itself clap in any moment of silence including within the movements themselves at times. Even after Salonen admonished the audience to hold their applause until the end of the piece, some people couldn’t seem to let go of their own need for enthusiasm. Although irritated, Salonen clearly was not going to be bound by these issues during an evening with so much pride and joy. The Sibelius Academy Symphony Orchestra will be doing some free shows around this week and you can see more about those here.


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