Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Other Voices, Other Rooms

March 31, 2008

Adès maxing and relaxing

A bewildering amount of publicity surrounded the Metropolitan Opera at the end of last week for events that really seem more markers of failure than success to my eyes. The house finally delivered on a Tristan und Isolde with the cast it used to advertise a series of performances for the last show of the run on Friday and the following night managed to inspire some people to travel from half a world away to see probably the most tired opera imaginable, La Bohème, in a woefully out-of-date production with a cast that has sung it before, better, and elsewhere. Will wonders never cease?

So it should be no surprise that my week in New York ended on an entirely different and more forward-looking front with two excellent shows in Zankel Hall, featuring the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group under the baton of British composer Thomas Adès. We here in LA are no strangers to Adès’ compositions but seeing him again in such an intimate setting was a real pleasure. The first night featured a concert performance of Gerald Barry’s chamber opera The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit in a reprise of an excellent outing of the same work in LA in 11/06. At least two of the cast from that prior event, Christopher Lemmings as Beauty and Stephen Wallace as Pleasure returned in Barry’s high-intensity tongue-twister. It was again rousing, if a little less refined, in the confines of Zankel, compared to the WDCH, but the argument for Barry’s work on this side of the Atlantic came across clearly to the receptive audience. You can also read more on the very excellent, but sadly under-attended show here.

Saturday saw a program of Adès own compositions as part of the “Making Music” series where the performances, led by the composer himself—who also played piano when called for—are accompanied with brief conversation between the composer and host Ara Guzelimian. The program consisted mostly of some of Adès earliest compositions from the 90s including Op. 1 Five Eliot Landscapes for piano and soprano, Op. 2 Chamber Symphony and its successor Living Toys from 1993. That the earliest of these compositions were submitted when Adès was a student for competitions and that they continue to offer a myriad of joys and excitement is remarkable. This is especially true when the composer in question is under 40. Adès himself was witty and charming on the stage, reminiscing at one point that prior to setting the five T.S. Eliot poems for his Op. 1, he had begun to set The Hollow Men for full orchestra and 30 percussionists. He slyly noted that this alone may have doomed the project after the first stanza.

The highlight of the show for me personally, though, was the brief 8 minute Court Studies from The Tempest, which consisted of brief pieces of incidental music he composed as part of the revision of his second opera based on Shakespeare’s play. This was a brief snippet of the dark and beautiful music making up one of the first major operas of the new century and it was all too short for this evening. However, it is this very music that reminds us that things may be looking up for New York’s storied opera house as Peter Gelb has already announced plans to program The Tempest for the 2011-2012 season. Funny how things change.

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Well, come late May, the WDCH will showcase some of these works:

I know I'll be there.
How right you are. In fact, Anthony Tommasini noted in his NYT review of Saturday's show that the LA Phil has become a home away from home for Adès in recent years. Yet more evidence of what may be lost with the departure of Salonen.

Here's the link http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/31/arts/music/31ades.html?_r=1&ref=music&oref=slogin
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