Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Color and Light

May 27, 2008

Adès, Hodges, and members of the LA Philharmonic
Photo : mine 2008

The L.A. Philharmonic is sending the season out with a bang this week. The final shows this weekend will feature the local premiere of Salonen’s Piano Concerto with Yefim Bronfman. But before that auspicious event was another big show - Thomas Adès followed up last week’s François Couperin love-fest with an evening of his own works including the U.S. Premiere of a new work, In Seven Days, with a video component designed by Tal Rosner.

But first there was old-fashioned music without video. The show opened with Arcadiana, a string quartet from 1994 in seven movements brimming with various musical and artistic references. Many of these deal with themes of water or land, which made a nice prelude to the to the latter part of the program where God gets about making the distinction between these two in the first place. The piece was played quite capably and very seriously by the Calder Quartet who released a new CD featuring this as well as other works today. This was followed by another work from the same year, Living Toys, for a small ensemble with piano and percussion. The same work was included in Adès’ Zankel Hall appearances earlier this year with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. I must admit that I was even more taken with tonight’s version, which sounded both fantastic and exciting in the hands of the L.A. Philharmonic players. It was a big winner that got a substantial pre-intermission ovation from the substantial crowd.

Of course, all of this was prelude to In Seven Days a co-commission from the LA Philharmonic and London’s Southbank Centre where it received its world premiere on April 28 this year. The work is a sort-of piano concerto that concerns, you guessed it, the Biblical tale of the creation of the earth. The work is accompanied by a six-channel video designed by Adès' domestic partner, Tal Rosner. Whether or not this personal and professional collaboration is the harbinger of a pairing along the lines of Britten and Pears as opposed to Madonna and Penn has yet to be determined. But there was plenty to be excited about tonight and overall it appears the future is more likely to be promising than not. The work's movements blend together and closely follow the traditional Genesis story. The music is pretty, accessible, and frequently rhythmic lending itself well to the moniker of “video-ballet” used by its creators. Nicolas Hodges was the piano soloist and, while he was solid, this work is not about flashy virtuoso maneuvers and the piano seldom stands out apart from the rest of the action.

Adès, Hodges, and Rosner
Photo : mine 2008

Video-accompaniment can be a risky business and it’s much to Rosner’s credit that his contribution is both attractive and very professional looking. This is a town that knows video and while this isn’t Bill Viola, it’s not shabby either. Rosner owes much more to early 20th century artists who experimented with music and visual images and people such as Oskar Fischinger than he does to any of his contemporaries. His work takes photographs and digital video and processes them with a modicum of computer wizardry. Nothing is ever completely recognizable, and the remnants have a kinetic sense closely timed with the composition.

The work received a big standing ovation and while I was sad to see it end and could have easily tolerated another 30 minutes or more, if I have any criticism it’s that the whole thing seemed a bit prosaic. God creates the stars and the piano tinkles away in the high register while little white dots of various sizes flash on the screen. God creates the sun and there you have a giant yellow-kaleidoscope. Still In Seven Days continues to suggest Adès’ growth as a composer. He continues to display a sense of the theatric and an appreciation of the collaborative process that makes one eager to see what’s next from him. And that may be the most exciting thing of all.

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While the Calder string quartet work was more tedious than I wanted, the concert really amped up with the other two works.
Seven Days was wonderful, and as you said, I wanted another 30 minutes of that music.
Just hoping Salonen's Piano Concerto on Sunday is as enjoyable.
It is quite a week for new piano works.
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