Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Sawdust and Diamonds

November 11, 2007

Argerich, Dutoit, and the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra
Photo: mine 2007
Two very different artists made big impressions at the Walt Disney Concert Hall this weekend. On Thursday, Martha Argerich finally made her debut in the space on a bill with the UBS Verbier Festival Orchestra and Charles Dutoit. This was the final show in the International Youth Orchestra Festival the Philharmonic has been touting over the last few weeks and was easily the best show of the series. The group is not sponsored by a nefarious state, but instead operate under the banner of a nefarious multinational financial services corporation, UBS. Keeping with their multinational sponsor, the group is composed of young musicians from all over the world playing at both the annual Verbier Festival each summer and touring later in the Fall. And while they did not have snazzy jackets to whip out for the encores, the young men did sport colorful red or orange ties to go along with the sponsor’s logo. All of this aside, the playing was quite fine and Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique, which closed the program, sounded dynamic and wonderful under the expert guidance of Dutoit. The show stealer however was undoubtedly Argerich, whose performance of Prokofiev’s 3rd Piano Concerto was nothing short of perfection. Nimble and rich, her playing was a true wonder and even if the orchestra seemed timid up against her playing at times, she delivered marvels. Two encores followed prior to intermission and if not for her forceful intervention to pull the orchestra off stage, the crowd would have continued to beg for more the rest of the evening.

Photo: Paul O’Valle 2007

Friday’s artist is also interested in percussive string instruments but favors the harp over the piano. Joanna Newsom appeared with both her band as well as a small orchestra under the direction of Sean O’Loughlin. Newsom received rave reviews for her idiosyncratic 60 minute 5 song recording Ys last year and the highlight of the program was a performance of the entire work from start to finish with all of the rich orchestrations from Van Dyke Parks still intact. Newsom’s harp playing is enthralling and her vocal style, less affected in person that on record, owes as much to Kristin Hersh as it does Björk. These songs sprawl over multiple tempo changes and operate in their own twisted pop song logic swelling and receding at whim. The second half of the program focused on older and newer pieces featuring only her small band and herself. Many of these songs are built on Appalachian folk traditions and, while strong, they seemed somewhat pale against Ys and Parks’ orchestrations. Still it was a great show and the young hipster crowd seemed to eat it up. Newsom herself seems unsure about how to handle all the shouted proclamations of love from such an audience. She is frequently all business, propelling things forward and not straying to chat or reflect. But that is certainly OK when the business at hand is as interesting as this.

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