Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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

Eine Brise

February 23, 2010

Making music the old fashioned way on the streets of L.A.
Photo: Jeff 2010

I love contemporary classical music because you never know exactly what you’re going to find. Sure, there are artistic trends and common methodologies than can be identified and explained, but the sense of discovery in hearing something that is relatively new is always different from the discovery in something well known that has arguably been “made new” again in terms of a specific performance or reiteration. Take the Monday Evening Concert series, which this week presented a program of works by Mauricio Kagel. MEC is no stranger to composers who prefer theatrical approaches to music. This season alone has brought us semi-staged chamber pieces invoking the sands of the desert and piano compositions played with the assistance of stuffed animals.

But Monday was a new one for me. Standing outside in the dark along Grand Avenue downtown awaiting just over 100 bicyclists to whiz by. Entitled Eine Brise, this 90-second work consists of just about that - a large cadre of bicyclists peddling past the audience as the riders shushed and whooshed like the wind. But as odd as it sounds, I have to admit it was a rather thrilling minute. At first there was nothing other than the typical city noise. Then off in the distance one could hear the faintest ringing of bells as some of the cyclists nighttime lights flickered on the horizon. Then they were there, the metaphorical breeze of Kagel’s title passing just as quickly. And much like a breeze, it left you standing there wondering if the experience had taken place at all. The nighttime setting turned out to be perfect for the experience enhancing the mystery around the piece.

The rest of the show was very fine, though more predictably indoors. Prior to the outdoor excursion was Kagel’s Dressur, German for animal training. Kagel employs three percussionists who use a remarkable variety of almost entirely wooden instruments from a marimba to coconut husks to wooden straight back chairs. The best moment was undoubtedly the nutcracker accompaniment. The piece featured the second time this month that I’ve seen a percussionist bare his chest in order to play it. Dressur has as much stage direction in it as it does actual music with the players threatening each other with furniture and at one point even enacting a spirited flamenco-style dance on a wooden floor in Dutch wooden shoes topped off with an “Olé”. The work pointedly addresses issues about how audiences think about performance and the work involved in them. It was also a lot of fun.

The evening ended with the comparatively straight-forward Trio in Three Movements for piano, cello and violin. Although the work is filled with recognizable melodies common in much less rarefied settings like the circus or carnival, Kagel adds his own layers of depth. He sets the individual parts askew to one another, at times encouraging the players to take their own independent tempos. There was plenty of interesting music in the thirty minutes and proved a nice contrast to the far more staged works in the first half. All in all, another winning evening from the MEC folks.


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