Mark Swed, Music Critic
6:46 AM PDT, June 17, 2013
In the decade since its founding, the International Contemporary Ensemble has become essential. The flexible collective of 33 musicians is likely the most accomplished new music group in New York, and it makes a significant contribution toward keeping the city musically cosmopolitan, regularly providing compelling performances of meaningful and dauntingly difficult new music from afar.
6:00 AM PDT, June 11, 2013
— Reputed to court mavericks, the Ojai Music Festival doesn't always extend a very large welcome mat. But this offbeat weekend, the mat was massive.Attention was drawn to supposedly kooky and bizarrely neglected West Coast composers who happen to be essential contributors to American music and our national identity.
5:11 PM PDT, June 7, 2013
OJAI — It can't, of course, be helped, but after a hundred years, "The Rite of Spring" has inevitably lost its sting.
4:50 PM PDT, June 13, 2013
BERKELEY — "The Rite of Spring" is a ballet born of violence. Stravinsky's score unfurls the furious sudden spring of his native St. Petersburg, the sounds of cracking ice on the river Neva being like gunfire. Taken from the scandalous sexuality of Russian folklore, the dance depicts a virgin sacrificed to the savage, ecstatic pleasure of "sages."
8:00 AM PDT, June 7, 2013
I grew up listening to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which may help explain why I had to learn to love Mozart. That happened when I went away to college and, studying the scores, discovered how much I had been missing, how much Mozartean magic had simply become mystery, from dutiful performances at the dull Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Happily, times have — however slowly or surprisingly — changed.
5:00 AM PDT, June 3, 2013
Opera, in our parts, has embarked upon an exceptional period of expansion. Up and down the California coast, the staging of new and recent work possibly outnumbers old.
6:10 PM PDT, May 20, 2013
Appearing with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra eight years ago, 23-year-old Alisa Weilerstein was a playfully kittenish cello soloist in Tchaikovsky's "Rococo" Variations. I wrote then that when she matures, look out.
5:30 AM PDT, May 20, 2013
An essay in the program for Los Angeles Opera's new production of "Tosca," which opened at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday night, begins by quoting Benjamin Britten on Puccini's opera. The British composer, Joseph Berger writes, was "'sickened' by the music's 'cheapness and emptiness,' and the astute critic Joseph Kerman famously called [the opera] 'a shabby little shocker.'"
6:00 AM PDT, May 27, 2013
Among the exceptional accomplishments of Mieczyslaw Horszowski, the Polish pianist who died in Philadelphia in 1993 one month before his 101st birthday, was marrying at 89, performing into his late 90s and teaching until the last week of his life. His students include such probing pianists as Murray Perahia, Richard Goode and Peter Serkin. In those final recitals, a revelatory Horszowski summoned, with fingers that preserved an incomparable historical memory, long-dead voices from another era.
5:25 PM PDT, May 17, 2013
What do we do with the Duke? He was, most agree, the greatest jazz composer who ever lived. And more.
5:00 AM PDT, May 13, 2013
Opera was born to be mad.
5:00 AM PDT, May 27, 2013
He was a protégé of Paderewski, the legendary Polish pianist, who said that someday this boy would take his place. But this boy became a parody. Poor Liberace.
3:05 PM PDT, May 1, 2013
The Handel and Haydn Society, which brought Handel's last oratorio "Jephtha" to Walt Disney Concert Hall on Tuesday night, is not your grandfather's H&H. Not your great-grandfather's, your great-great-grandfather's or even your great-great-great-grandfather's. At your next family séance, you would do best checking in with your great-great-great-great-granddad. H&H gave the U.S. premiere of "Jephtha" in 1850.
5:00 AM PDT, May 20, 2013
Jean Nouvel, the French architect, is credited with creating "installations" for the Los Angeles Philharmonic production of Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," although "transformations" would be more accurate. Azzedine Alaïa designed the striking costumes. The result is a stunningly high style and wonderfully performed French "Figaro" that customized Walt Disney Concert Hall on Friday night in more ways than one.
3:25 PM PDT, May 9, 2013
LA JOLLA — It turns out that even those ripe, red, fragrant local strawberries that help make May farmers' markets so seductive can have, as beauty sometimes does, sad tales to tell. A new opera's undercover job is to taste the flavor of that sadness.
6:39 PM PDT, April 30, 2013
Although Pier Paolo Pasolini was best known as an Italian filmmaker, he called himself a poet and his Wikipedia entry begins by also describing him as a journalist, philosopher, linguist, novelist, playwright, filmmaker, columnist, actor, painter, political figure and all-around visionary thinker.
4:44 PM PDT, May 10, 2013
It hasn't always been so, but symphony orchestras these days fear Bach. Many modern philharmonics, intimidated by period-practice specialists, consign the composer often cited as the greatest ever to early-instrument ensembles. On the rare occasions when a timorous modern symphony does do Bach, it begs an excuse — a big-band arrangement by Stravinsky or Stokowski, say, or a special festival with big-scaled works, as the New York Philharmonic recently did.
3:14 PM PDT, May 3, 2013
The famous first bars of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto summon four fortissimo horns to urgently blare a four-note descending figure and then leap. The full Los Angeles Philharmonic punctuated that leap Thursday night about as adamantly as I can recall having ever heard it. An industrial strength timpani thump added emphasis.
6:10 PM PDT, April 29, 2013
The Los Angeles Philharmonic sent Lionel Bringuier out into the world on Sunday afternoon. Lucky world.
4:40 PM PDT, May 8, 2013
Let me get this straight. Two weeks ago in Santa Barbara violinist Jennifer Koh went from Bach to way beyond at Hahn Hall. Then Hilary Hahn at Walt Disney Concert Hall went from Bach to way beyond Tuesday night. Both virtuoso American violinists, who are in their early or mid-30s, bring real depth to Bach but are now spreading their wings extraordinarily.
4:30 PM PDT, April 25, 2013
With Montecito magically misted by a surprising spring drizzle Wednesday night, Jennifer Koh went, for a second time, beyond Bach. The violinist's awe-inspiring solo recital at the Music Academy of the West's Hahn Hall was the latest installment in her project of moderating a conversation between Bach's solo violin sonatas and partitas with history as a way to bring music of the past into the present.
7:25 PM PDT, April 24, 2013
An authority on Euripides, Christian Wolff is a retired professor of Greek and Latin classics (along with Marxist literature), having taught at Harvard and Dartmouth for many years.
5:00 AM PDT, April 29, 2013
Jacaranda, the Santa Monica new music series, began its current season in September with a significant contribution to the local ad hoc celebrations of the 100th anniversary of John Cage's birth that month. It is now ending the season with a significant contribution to "Britten 100/LA," the citywide festival celebrating the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Britten's birth later this year. These are not obvious bookends.
7:30 PM PDT, April 22, 2013
Eleven minutes and 22 seconds of what was once expected to be a major half-hour string quartet is not, quite yet, a comeback. But a little more than 11 minutes of very good music by a wonderful composer, loved by audiences and performers alike and simply one of the great musical forces of our time, is a start.
7:30 AM PDT, April 18, 2013
A tree grows most surely in Brooklyn. But what's in a ZIP Code?
7:35 PM PDT, April 21, 2013
There is little mistaking California's 22nd largest city for Brooklyn, N.Y., to say nothing of the literally lifeless Glendale section of western Queens, adjacent to Brooklyn. Unlike New York City's Glendale, ours has, despite accommodating Forest Lawn, more living than dead (Glendale in Queens is home to many cemeteries). But despite its vitality, our Glendale hardly has a Brooklyn hipster vibe (although its Armenian restaurants may attract the occasional nearby Atwater Village artist).
4:45 PM PDT, April 19, 2013
Times have certainly changed in Brooklyn. Streets unsafe last decade now bustle invitingly. Composers born in the borough last century couldn't get away fast enough. Composers from all over now can't move there fast enough.
5:00 AM PDT, March 25, 2013
The romanticized image Los Angeles Opera is promoting for "Cinderella" shows a pretty princess, a pumpkin-shaped carriage and ample fairy dust. Opera, perhaps, for preteens?
6:00 AM PDT, April 19, 2013
Allen Ginsberg's "Kaddish: For Naomi Ginsberg (1894–1956)" is not a great poet's loudest howl.
5:20 PM PDT, April 1, 2013
SAN DIEGO — Devout opera companies caring to connect with Holy Week easily can. Along with the obvious choice of Wagner's "Parsifal," contemporary composers such as Harrison Birtwistle ("The Last Supper") and John Adams ("The Gospel According to the Other Mary") have been contributing to the cause.
6:05 PM PDT, March 19, 2013
The spirit of the St. Louis Symphony, until now, hasn't seemed quite able to handle head winds.
4:59 PM PST, March 8, 2013
"The Gospel According to the Other Mary" is now another "Other Mary," the "Mary" we have been waiting for.
4:35 PM PDT, April 5, 2013
The Sunset Canyon Amphitheatre, at the northwest corner of the UCLA campus, is not exactly the wilds. The bleachers overlook a recreation center's grassy knoll and a swimming pool in the distance. Still, the amphitheater is hidden away and, thanks to UCLA's parking militia, mildly inaccessible to the public. If that touch of trouble and remove helped make Sunset Canyon an enchanted, although challenging, venue Thursday night for Trisha Brown's "Astral Converted," it also helped remind us just how radically times have changed over the last two decades.
8:00 AM PDT, March 30, 2013
LONDON — The editor of Opera is worried.
5:35 PM PDT, March 10, 2013
The composer Richard Wagner, born 200 years ago this spring, believed (with justification) that he represented the music of the future. Los Angeles likes to think (with justification?) that it represents the city of the future.
February 25, 2013
Southwest Chamber Music's 2013 L.A. International New Music Festival, in progress at the Colburn School's Zipper Concert Hall, is doing its attentive bit to broaden international musical relations. We hear too little music from Mexican, Korean or even Venezuelan composers. America and Germany lost its two greatest senior composers — Elliott Carter and Hans Werner Henze — late last year, but they have been long lost on the West Coast, where they remain ignored. Thankfully in such matters, Southwest can serve as an indispensable diplomat.
6:00 AM PST, February 8, 2013
Caravaggio is a great subject for music. There are fascinating parallels between the way the artist helped usher in modern painting at the turn of the 17th century and the way his Italian contemporaries Monteverdi and Gesualdo laid the foundations for modern music.
7:00 AM PST, March 8, 2013
Spring Arts Preview
Spring is, as always, a season for festivals. The big one in Los Angeles this year is the ongoing celebration of the centenary of Benjamin Britten's birth, initiated by Los Angeles Opera. The Los Angeles Philharmonic's weeklong Brooklyn Festival in April is an investigation into how the New York City borough has become a hot spot for young composers. But while festivals take up a lot of the oxygen on the performing arts calendars, there is much else:
3:26 PM PST, March 1, 2013
This story has been updated. See note below.
4:25 PM PST, February 27, 2013
Van Cliburn was a pianist, of course. He will be remembered for that big technique, big physique and big Texan heart, all of which contributed to making him such a sensation when he played. But Cliburn, who died Wednesday at 78, may be remembered most for being a phenomenon.
6:00 AM PST, January 19, 2013
Along with adding the finishing touches to his inaugural address on Monday, President Obama has plenty on his plate. He is consumed by the responsibilities of selecting new Cabinet members and preparing strategies to get them confirmed. He already had his fair share of critics, and the last thing he needs is a music critic telling him how to run the country.
4:30 PM PDT, March 22, 2013
Conditions on the ground weren't ideal, and "The Flying Dutchman" did not achieve liftoff when Los Angeles Opera opened its gloomy new production of Wagner's gloomy early opera the second Saturday of March at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
10:00 AM PST, February 23, 2013
MUNICH, Germany — Wagner's "The Ring of Nibelung" is no picnic.
6:00 PM PST, March 4, 2013
This is the time to start a discussion of "Aida."
4:45 PM PST, February 27, 2013
The Walt Disney Concert Hall stage didn't look so hot for Tuesday night's Green Umbrella concert. Rather than the trademark umbrellas being gracefully suspended from the ceiling, they were placed in clumps, like lean-tos, on either side of a stage and so saturated with green light that they appeared covered with AstroTurf.
2:00 PM PST, December 14, 2012
It's been a year of hand-wringing at arts institutions on both sides of the Atlantic. The world economy has been particularly effective in scarifying orchestras and opera companies. In the United States, several orchestras are in various states of economic disarray — Atlanta, Indianapolis and Minneapolis being only the worst. Overseas, orchestras in Germany and Britain, opera houses in Italy are dropping like flies thanks to severe cuts in public funding.
5:32 PM PST, January 31, 2013
Yefim Bronfman's recital at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Wednesday night was bookended by monumental Brahms and Prokofiev sonatas that the popular Uzbek pianist with a massive technique made much of. The occasion will gladly be remembered as the example of a prodigious performer in action, increasingly willing to plumb music's soul.
3:44 PM PDT, June 25, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO — A production here of John Adams' "Nixon in China" begins with a goose-bump gorgeous projection on a scrim in front of the stage of Air Force One gracefully gliding into Beijing through slate gray clouds on a winter's day. Lawrence Renes, a Dutch conductor in his early 40s making his San Francisco Opera debut, creates a viscerally silky sound from Adams' brilliantly atmospheric orchestral prologue.
May 14, 2012
"La Bohème" is back. So too is Los Angeles Opera's enduring 1993 Herb Ross production.
January 1, 2013
NEW YORK — The hair jokes may have grown old, what with a slight fleck of gray peeking through his now shortened and tamed curls. The Dude nickname is pretty much over as well. And no longer is Gustavo Dudamel as tempted to head for Pink's hot dog stand after conducting at Walt Disney Concert Hall or the Hollywood Bowl as he was when he first became music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009. He is more likely to rush home to be with his 20-month-old son, Martín, and wind down by doing his own cooking.
May 23, 2012
Southwest Chamber Music's L.A. International New Music Festival is more a Los Angeles interstitial new music festival. Skirting touristy Europe, these Southwesterners are not interested in inclusiveness but in filling gaps that very much need filling.
November 6, 2012
Elliott Carter, the great American composer who was born in the horse-and-buggy era but whose music persistently looked ahead by reflecting and unabashedly celebrating the intricacies of modern life, died Monday of natural causes at his home in New York, according to his close friend and assistant, clarinetist Virgil Blackwell. He was 103.
May 22, 2012
Long Beach Opera's new production of Osvaldo Golijov's "Ainadamar" comes at an important time. The opera is a meditation on the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca's murder by the fascists during the Spanish Civil War, which is ever relevant, especially in the way the work echoes the current situation in the Middle East.
7:00 AM PST, December 23, 2012
Once, when asked how he thought history would consider his work, John Cage responded that he had made so much, getting rid of it all would be very difficult. Twenty years after his death he has been spectacularly proven right. This year marked the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth in Los Angeles on Sept. 5. As part of an international celebration, Cage's work appeared and continues to appear in concert halls, opera houses, museums, galleries, clubs, alternative spaces, reconverted industrial buildings, parks, street corners, atria and even a dock or two by the bay.
July 22, 2012
Where the Heart Beats
December 19, 2010
"In the Middle Ages," Sara Maitland writes in her brilliant "A Book of Silence," "Christian scholastics argued that the devil's basic strategy was to bring human beings to a point where they are never alone with their God, nor ever attentively face to face with another human being." Hence our Faustian pact with Facebook, with cellphones, with virtual everything.
April 28, 2012
So what would Beethoven drive?
3:11 PM PDT, April 26, 2012
More than 20 years ago, the music critic John Rockwell described Ben Johnston in the New York Times as "one of the best nonfamous composers this country has to offer." What has changed is that Johnston is now, I'd suggest, our best nonfamous composer.
September 30, 2012
May 1, 2011
"Who says that only Americans know how to play Gershwin?" asks Gramophone magazine this month as it hails a new Gershwin CD from the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the German orchestra that calls itself the world's oldest. "By this time possibly nobody," the British record guide answers its rhetorical self.
June 1, 2010
Saturday night, an E-flat began to rumble in the lowest instruments in the orchestra deep and unseen in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion pit, and the world began anew as it does over and over again for devotees of the opera cult known as "The Ring." The preparation has been intense. A decade in the planning, two years in the making, Los Angeles Opera's first "Ring" cycle, four grand-scaled Wagner operas, has now begun and gone locally viral.
March 7, 2010
When I was in college, I hated Richard Nixon. Everyone I knew (except perhaps my father) hated Richard Nixon. My perspective was as a politically engaged undergraduate at UC Berkeley during the war in Vietnam -- holding a low draft number.
September 15, 2008
APOWERFUL new wave of opera combining Chinese and Western music and drama and written by Chinese composers, many of whom have immigrated to the U.S., has swept much of America, as well as parts of Europe and Asia, in the last 15 years. That it has mostly bypassed the major opera companies on our coast may be evidence of nothing more than a collective Pacific Rim ho-hum at a mix that appears old news in these parts. Even so, Stewart Wallace's "The Bonesetter's Daughter," based on Amy Tan's bestselling novel and given its premiere by San Francisco Opera on Saturday night, brought a welcome dose of operatic chinoiserie to the West Coast.
2:53 PM PDT, April 20, 2012
The Seoul Philharmonic wants to be the one, not just the classical music soul of Seoul, but the first Asian orchestra to make it big on the international scene. At their Walt Disney Concert Hall debut Thursday night, the Koreans were — in a program of Debussy, Ravel and Tchaikovsky standards — exhilarating and, at their best, even awesome.
March 28, 2010
Pierre Boulez, everyone says, has mellowed. A half-century ago, he was famed as a maestro with a frighteningly formidable ear, a French composer of frightfully formidable music and a polarizing polemicist.
May 31, 2009
Sir André, come home.
June 28, 2009
In his 1979 film, "Manhattan," Woody Allen, ever the sarcastic pessimist, wonders why life is worth living. He comes up with Brando, Sinatra, Groucho, the second movement of Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony and Cézanne's pears among the few things that make it worthwhile. And "Swedish movies, naturally." Director Ingmar Bergman was the best-known Scandinavian artist, and Swedish cinema was a voyeuristic American's most likely contact with a supposedly sexually liberated Scandinavia.
November 1, 2009
Google "viola joke" and you'll be rewarded with thousands, an afternoon's worth of hilarity at the expense of one of the most expressive sound producing machines ever conjured up.
November 22, 2009
In April 1989, the glamorously autocratic Herbert von Karajan resigned from his post as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, the West German ensemble he had led for 35 years and made into the most brilliant orchestra the world had ever known. In July, he died. On Nov. 9, the Berlin Wall came down.
December 13, 2009
Esa-Pekka Salonen always said he wanted to leave the Los Angeles Philharmonic while he was ahead. In April he did, finishing his 17-year run as music director in remarkable fashion. At the end of his last concert, a quiet chord of Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms" hung in the air for a mini-eternity. The audience rose to its feet in a warm, mass embrace of the conductor with applause. Many wept. Orchestra members lined up and, one by one, hugged Salonen. After 20 minutes, he was red-faced, teary-eyed and loaded down with flowers.
October 17, 2008
Review: András Schiff at the Disney Concert Hall
András Schiff is a compact man with a large head. He walked onto the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage Wednesday night like a cross between an absent-minded professor and Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp. When he sat at the piano to play Beethoven's Sonata, Opus 31, No. 1, his hands danced on the keyboard with extraordinary grace. He grinned and grimaced. He delighted in the delicacy of his fingers bouncing off the keys. If Chaplin had been a great pianist, this might have been his Beethoven.
February 8, 2009
For the last seven decades, Mills College, which will celebrate the renovation of its gorgeous Spanish-style concert hall with a gala concert Feb. 21, has provided a haven for a remarkable number of cutting-edge composers. No matter how academically unsuitable some might have seemed, they have flocked to its manicured sylvan campus tucked behind the intersection of two ugly freeways in a nondescript section of the Oakland foothills. And whether or not anyone has noticed, they have broken new ground.
July 10, 2008
Tuesday night, for the 87th time, the Los Angeles Philharmonic opened its classical music series at the Hollywood Bowl. For the first time, at least as far as anyone could remember, it rained.
November 22, 2008
On my way to the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood Thursday night for a rare local appearance by Lukas Ligeti, I stopped by Amoeba Music to pick up his new solo CD, "Afrikan Machinery." It was temporarily out of stock. A good sign, I thought. This is remarkable music, and its popularity must mean a brilliant young composer is catching on.
September 8, 2008
PATIENT, persistent Plácido Domingo long ago decided that he wanted Woody Allen for Los Angeles Opera. The company came up with any number of cockamamie proposals -- such as commissioning Allen to write the libretto for a new opera by John Williams, commissioning someone else to write an opera based on an Allen short story or having the filmmaker direct this or that opera -- that went nowhere.
August 21, 2008
Bramwell Tovey conducted "Petrushka" at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night. But before he did, the principal guest conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for its summer concerts explained that Stravinsky kills off the eponymous puppet in his 1911 ballet by having a percussionist throw a tambourine down on a wooden table. Tovey said he had instructed a camera to pan to said tambourine and table at the appropriate moment so everyone would see them on the Bowl's video screens.
November 20, 2008
May we please stop obsessing over the hypoallergenic first puppy and change the subject to something deep, spiritual, life-changing? Like detergent.
August 14, 2008
Philip Glass' Violin Concerto, which finally made it to the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night, is the concerto that wouldn't die.
October 13, 2008
The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage, newly added to Santa Monica College, had its semi-public tryouts over the summer and a gala last month with singer Barbara Cook, who was amplified. But the opening night concert Saturday, a recital by mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, was the first real tryout of the 499-seat hall's acoustics, which were designed by JaffeHolden.
October 9, 2008
JOHN ADAMS is the voice of America. His instrumental music, and particularly that for the orchestra, conveys the American experience broadly. He is generous in his interests, which include the maverick Yankee-isms of Charles Ives, the populist strains of Bernstein and Copland and the classical jazz of Ellington and Benny Goodman, as well as the more progressive styles of Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Pop music -- be it the Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, electronica or grunge -- is on his radar. He has experimented with experimental music and championed Minimalism. Sibelius looms large.
April 7, 2008
WE can refuse history, but we can't forget about it, even with the new technologies. Those are Luciano Berio's words. They were also the theme of the late Italian composer's Norton Lectures at Harvard 15 years ago. Last week, I was sure I had long ago proved Berio wrong. Having shuffled dying swans and such into the category of ritual rather than renewable art, I not only, good Modernist that I am, refused Tchaikovsky's ballets but also had put them out of my mind. Would good reviews have made American Ballet Theatre's "Swan Lake" at the Music Center an event? Not for me.
July 26, 2008
LENOX, Mass. -- In 1986, Elliott Carter wrote "A Celebration of Some 100 x 150 Notes," a salute to Texas on its 150th anniversary. That may appear a lot of notes to fit into a three-minute piece, but this brash bevy of 11 fanfares all fighting for attention at once was but one very small part of "Carter's Century," a very large celebration of the composer's upcoming 100th birthday as part of the Tanglewood Music Festival here. If those 15,000 notes had been grains of sand, then this five-day jubilee (which ended Thursday) at the Boston Symphony's summer home in the lush green Berkshires could have been called Carter Beach.
September 9, 2008
Two years ago, a bass-baritone covered in gook stalked the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. That was the medieval monster in Elliot Goldenthal's "Grendel," commissioned by Los Angeles Opera. Sunday afternoon, a baritone covered in gook again stalked the Chandler stage. This time it was Brundle, the scientist hero transmogrified into a Musca domestica in Howard Shore's "The Fly," inspired by the 1986 David Cronenberg horror film -- the latest opera commissioned by the company.
October 13, 2008
Make a poet a diplomat and good may come of it. France sent the great humanist writer Paul Claudel to Brazil during World War I, and food found its way from South America to France during a period of privation. So too did Brazilian music, once the war was won.
September 11, 2008
The world did not end Wednesday morning after scientists near Geneva turned on the Large Hadron Collider, smashing protons onto protons at nearly the speed of light. At least I don't think a black hole was formed, as some feared could happen, pulverizing the Earth into quantum mechanical soup. But then again, I had been at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night, where Esa-Pekka Salonen conducted Mahler's Eighth Symphony, so it wasn't possible to be entirely sure.
July 29, 2008
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y. -- Every decade or so, I get my hopes up that Karol Szymanowski's ravishing "King Roger," Poland's one great opera, will finally catch on.
July 31, 2008
Miguel Harth-Bedoya led the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a likable and satisfying performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony at the Hollywood Bowl on Tuesday night. What made it likable was the rhythmic lilt. But what made it satisfying was more important. Fate, for once, was no big deal.
July 15, 2008
"Carmen" is not new to the Hollywood Bowl. On July 8, 1922, three days before the first season of "Symphonies Under the Stars," the Los Angeles Philharmonic, itself only 3 years old, mounted a lavish production of Bizet's opera. The cast numbered nearly 500. Massive sets of Seville surrounded the brand-new amphitheater. When soprano Marguerita Sylva, who starred, rolled into Union Station five days earlier, reporters were there to greet her as if she were a movie star. Proceeds from the performance financed the installation of the Bowl's first benches.
June 30, 2008
I do not unconditionally celebrate the Internet, particularly its intrusion into classical music. As replacements for the record store, Amazon and iTunes have become necessary evils. Typical commercial downloads are sonic shadows of the superior sound of CDs. Blogs ghettoize critics. YouTube is pretty much a toy.
June 25, 2008
AMSTERDAM -- There have been some things even the most dazed Dutch, hazy-headed from the legal hash and marijuana sold in "coffee shops," probably couldn't have missed this month in their teeming capital. Construction is everywhere, especially along the docklands development that includes the astonishing new Muziekgebouw (a concert hall complex devoted to new music!). By day, more bicyclists than ever rule the streets, blissfully independent of Royal Dutch Shell, the national oil company. By night, soccer fans have turned the town squares orange on Euro 2008 match nights, with seemingly all of the populace dressed in Holland's team color.
May 31, 2008
On Feb. 1, 2007, the New York Philharmonic premiered Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Piano Concerto, his most ambitious orchestral score. The Big Apple's skeptical concert-goers and critics, proudly sporting their late-model flashiness detectors, responded with surprising (and evidently surprised) enthusiasm. The composer conducted. The orchestra, a very great ensemble in music it has played a million times, was impressive, barely over its head.
May 17, 2008
SAN LUIS OBISPO -- On a balmy evening here Thursday, the dozen men of Chanticleer, dressed in identical stylish dark suits, began a slow procession down the aisle of the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa mission, founded in 1772. It was a solemn, beautiful, memorable moment. They were unfurling, for the first time, some of our musical DNA.
September 28, 2008
IMMEDIATELY after conducting the last Los Angeles Philharmonic concert of the 2007-08 season in June, music director Esa-Pekka Salonen took off for Stockholm, where the Swedish Radio Orchestra celebrated his 50th birthday with an affectionately screwball gala. Next he visited his country home in his native Finland, where he composes and recharges. In August, he went to the Finnish capital to conduct at the Helsinki Festival, which he once headed, and then back to Stockholm to do the same at the Baltic Sea Festival, which he started six years ago to increase awareness of environmental issues through music. That was followed by his Vienna Philharmonic debut at the Salzburg Festival in Austria.
June 6, 2008
Chapter 11 in Neal Gabler's 2006 biography of Walt Disney is titled "Slouching Toward Utopia." It begins a couple of years after Disneyland opened in July 1955. So what did Walt do next? "Aglow over Disneyland," Gabler writes, "he was intent on expanding and improving it."
July 17, 2008
Marimba mavens are not many. The two-week Zeltsman Marimba Festival, which runs through Saturday at the Colburn School, may have generated publicity and feature stories. New works, we are told, have been commissioned by top composers, although specifics on the festival's website are few. But generally, there is still a closed world of enthusiasts for the mallet instrument that doesn't have quite the zing of the xylophone nor the solo tradition of vibraphone but that can make a beautifully resonant sound.
May 19, 2008
Come Dec. 22, celebrations of Puccini’s 150th birthday may abound. But, generally, opera companies are not making the fuss typical of major anniversaries of popular (and even unpopular) composers this year. Or perhaps the companies are. It can be hard to tell, given how common are "La Boheme," "Madame Butterfly" and "Tosca."
August 11, 2008
SANTA BARBARA -- Every wedding he ever attended was, in some way, a disaster, the late filmmaker Robert Altman claims in a featurette that accompanies the DVD of his 1978 comedy, "A Wedding." The more wealth involved, of course, the greater the potential for madcap mishap.
June 2, 2008
Harry Partch invented and built his own weird (and beautiful) instruments. He developed his own weird (and beautiful) micro-tonal musical scale, adding an extra 31 pitches to the normal 12. He created his own odd aesthetic that joined modern music with ancient Greece and China (with hints of Latin America) and that included his own peculiar notions of dance, theater and ritual.
April 16, 2008
In Germany, he is often referred to as “Professor Helmut Lachenmann.” He is 73, lanky, bearded. A student of Luigi Nono and Karlheinz Stockhausen, he is perhaps the foremost representative of the second-generation European avant-garde.
March 31, 2008
In some respects, D-day at Walt Disney Concert Hall resembled many another Friday night concert by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. A young man conducted. Another young man played the piano. The hall was full, and listeners sat respectfully through the program, saving their gusto for standing ovations.
May 26, 2008
I don't know that Baudelaire meant music in his poem "Invitation to the Voyage," when he thought of a world far away -- exotic, unobtainable, a land lost in love's gaze. "All is order there, and elegance," he wrote, "pleasure, peace and opulence." But I think he did.
April 24, 2008
In 1988, Mark Morris was invited to make his dance company a resident ensemble at the Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie. As part of Brussels' opera company, he was told to think as big as he liked. He did, and that was, for him, a new opportunity. During his three years in Belgium, he also thought differently, which was not so new for him but produced newly outrageous results when combined with thinking big in Old World operatic Europe.
April 17, 2008
The math behind eighth blackbird’s program Tuesday night at the Orange County Performing Artscenter, titled "The Only Moving Thing," was this:
April 17, 2007
"Discover Mexico" was the touristy title of the first concert in the Pacific Symphony's festival of Mexican music, "Los Sonidos de México," Sunday afternoon at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. "Notice Mexico" might be more like it.
October 31, 2003
Earle Brown died last year a neglected composer, but he has not been forgotten. As a member of John Cage's New York circle in the 1950s, he has his place in history. At that time, he came into contact with Abstract Expressionist painters and developed what he called his "open-form" technique. Through scores in which the musical events are indicated but not their exact realization, he wanted his music performed the way Jackson Pollock applied paint. A conductor's descriptive gestures splash the sounds onto the sonic canvas.
October 29, 2003
The Los Angeles Philharmonic opened the Walt Disney Concert Hall last week as though it meant it. That is a more striking notion than you might imagine. Concert hall openings are, not infrequently, debacles. These are complex buildings, and they are rarely ready in time. Acoustical issues, ranging from tuning the hall to learning to play in a new environment, always take time — sometimes years — to address.
April 19, 2008
The Beaux Arts Trio gave its first concert in the summer of 1955 at the Berkshire Music Festival in Massachusetts. The trio will close shop this summer at the same festival, now known as Tanglewood. But first the Beaux Arts has a lot of goodbyes to wave.
April 5, 2008
The affair between Gustavo Dudamel and Los Angeles is young love. Thursday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, the 27-year-old Venezuelan who will become music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2009 led a demanding program of two key 20th century works: Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2 and Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe." Had he wished to go to less trouble, he probably could have drawn a crowd conducting the Thomas Guide. Bigwigs rarely seen at Disney were there.
July 10, 2007
Looking to make a buck, in 1791 Mozart and the impresario-librettist Emanuel Schikaneder came up with a great idea for a new opera that could reach the pop crowd. But where to reach such a crowd today? Sunday night, "The Magic Flute" came to the Hollywood Bowl, where the care and feeding of a large general audience has been turned into an efficient art form of its own.
May 21, 2006
On Dec. 7, 1992, the New York Philharmonic celebrated its 150th anniversary by unveiling a poster it had commissioned from Robert Rauschenberg. An attractive, if slightly innocuous, silk-screen collage, it is instantly recognizable as a Rauschenberg. In the center sits a large pale rose, its stem coming out of a couple of earthy, painted-over brass instruments. On top is a lopsided keyboard. The poster enhances the lobby of Avery Fisher Hall, which needs all the visual help it can get.
May 16, 2008
Opera Pacific may not be the last opera company in America to get around to "Susannah," which it did effectively Wednesday night at the Orange County Performing Artscenter, but Carlisle Floyd’s faux-folk opera has few stages left to conquer. The irresistible numbers -- well over 200 productions, 700-plus performances -- were trotted out once more during a company sales pitch for new subscribers before the curtain rose.
July 1, 2003
The polished steel exterior of the Walt Disney Concert Hall is already familiar. Inside, the paint is dry, and few hard hats are in evidence. But one lingering question has been the most important: How will it sound?
March 20, 2007
Three pieces of chamber music have halos above them. An aura of reverence surrounds Beethoven's late soul-searching String Quartet in C-sharp minor, Opus 131, and Schubert's otherworldly C-major String Quintet. The third is Shostakovich's 15th and final string quartet, his this-time-he-really-meant-it farewell to a life of terrible inner and outer turmoil.
June 5, 2007
When Plácido Domingo was named artistic consultant of Los Angeles Opera in 1984, two years before the company staged its first production, he noted that it might be a good idea to perform zarzuela, Spain's form of operetta, in a town where Spanish is commonly spoken. Named artistic director designate in 1998, the Spanish tenor and son of zarzuela singers said the time was ripe for you know what. With his title upgraded to general director of the company four years ago, Domingo insisted once and for all that he'd bring zarzuela to L.A.
June 4, 2006
In the summer of 1955, "Stravinsky scarcely moved from Wetherly Drive," writes Stephen Walsh in the newly published second volume of his biography of the composer. Stravinsky scarcely moved because his arthritis was acting up and because he had music to write. But that spring, he had moved enough from his West Hollywood home above Sunset Boulevard to drive the 80 miles to Ojai, where he was briefly rejuvenated.
September 6, 2006
I try not to be shocked by the depths to which the music business can sink. And I fail.
June 12, 2007
OJAI — Folks here never tire of reminding visitors that Ojai is different, a small slice of paradise, not quite part of the real world. They could be right. But we must hope they are not.
February 20, 2007
After a seemingly interminable wait, we now have a second Gorecki Third. The first Third was a long, somber symphony, written in 1977, that remained cultishly obscure until it was released on a 1992 Nonesuch recording that became a cultural phenomenon. It sold more than a million copies, rose high on the British pop charts and was even sampled by hip-hop bands.
"He drank a lot," Ned Rorem says of Leonard Bernstein in a new 11-part radio documentary that has begun airing weekly around the country and starts tonight at 7 on KMZT-FM. "I remember he even drank for breakfast. That impressed me."
November 17, 2003
Tan Dun's "Inventions for Paper Instruments and Orchestra" is a delight. A percussion soloist entertainingly tears, crumbles, shakes, taps, pops and bangs upon what seems like half the inventory of a large stationery shop. That is when he isn't startlingly blowing, singing or whistling into sheets of paper.
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