Mark Swed, Music Critic
3:20 PM PST, December 13, 2013
Gustavo Dudamel is the dad of a son turning 3 in April, the husband of a classically trained ballet dancer, and a Tchaikovsky nut whose next big project will be a "TchaikovskyFest" with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Orchestra in late February.
5:00 AM PST, December 11, 2013
Words and music are stuck with each other. Like it or not, they have to get along.
5:30 AM PST, December 10, 2013
This review has been updated.
3:30 PM PST, December 4, 2013
Now it's L.A.'s turn.
5:00 AM PST, November 21, 2013
Three days after Lee Harvey Oswald's bullet inconsolably blackened the mood of America, Leonard Bernstein tried to lift the nation's spirits by focusing on a special legacy — one that is getting too little attention in the commentary around Friday's 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
4:20 PM PST, December 6, 2013
"Papa" Haydn is often called, rightfully and wrongly, the father of the symphony. The Los Angeles Philharmonic demonstrated the rightful part Thursday night with clear, crisp, clever and ever-delightful performances of Haydn's first and 100th efforts at the genre he didn't invent but unquestionably made feasible.
8:00 AM PST, December 6, 2013
From the start, I opposed digital downloads and everything about them.
5:00 AM PST, December 2, 2013
After Christian Zacharias had conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic in plush, punchy, skillfully proportioned yet not always stirring performances of works by Stravinsky, Bach, Schubert and Schumann, I turned to the Marx Brothers. Groucho had answers for many of life's predicaments. The 1946 screwball entertainment "A Night in Casablanca" happened to be especially relevant.
9:00 AM PST, November 28, 2013
"Judas Maccabaeus" is the Hanukkah "Messiah."
5:30 AM PST, November 25, 2013
With its show-business staging of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" as a cheekily animated silent movie, Los Angeles Opera on Saturday night got what it very much needs. That this will be a hit goes without saying. But what this once pioneering company really needs right now is a reason to be talked about again.
5:30 AM PST, November 13, 2013
I don't own anything close to a complete John Tavener discography. But I do have a foot-high stack of his CDs that I happened to stumble over in a closet not long ago. It got me wondering, not for the first time, what to make of the British composer who, by strange coincidence, died at 69 on Tuesday. A lot of people over the years have wondered the same thing about Tavener's numinous music, with its flamboyant, exotic spirituality.
6:00 AM PST, November 27, 2013
Art has yet to stop war from exercising its horrifying folly. Still we try.
5:00 AM PST, November 12, 2013
On the weeks when the Los Angeles Philharmonic puts on a Casual Fridays concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall, it leaves something out of the full program, usually the first work, so the concert can proceed without intermission. Last Friday, Britten's "Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" got the ax, probably without much regret. The chestnut might have seemed too much like kids' stuff when targeting an audience of young urban professionals.
5:30 AM PST, November 14, 2013
Even with traffic, the drive from the film studios to the concert halls of downtown L.A. or elsewhere across the city is easily doable. Hollywood composers have always known the way. Still, pianist Gloria Cheng opened the 20th anniversary season of Piano Spheres at the Colburn School's Zipper Concert Hall on Tuesday night with what might have seemed like a fling with odd musical bedfellows. She is a pianist with a well-known flair for difficult abstraction and a favorite of such modernist composers as Pierre Boulez and Esa-Pekka Salonen.
6:00 AM PST, November 11, 2013
No one should be surprised that the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which began its inaugural season Friday night with an appearance by the Martha Graham Dance Company, is a high-end venue. It's in Beverly Hills.
6:00 AM PDT, October 31, 2013
While driving to Aliso Viejo on Tuesday to hear the Juilliard String Quartet play Bach, Schubert and a young American composer, Jesse Jones, at the Soka Performing Arts Center, I listened to a little early Bob Dylan. It seemed right. But so might have Leonard Bernstein, Glenn Gould, something from Stravinsky's Los Angeles years or Aaron Copland. Anything by Miles Davis or Thelonious Monk would have been equally suitable.
3:28 PM PDT, October 25, 2013
The temptation for an orchestra to celebrate the opening of a concert hall by commissioning a major new work is obvious and irresistible. It's also, more often than not, a bad idea.
5:30 AM PST, November 11, 2013
Los Angeles finally has its first new "Falstaff" in decades. We're not alone.
5:30 AM PDT, October 25, 2013
"Hit it, Zubin!"
6:15 AM PDT, October 28, 2013
Esa-Pekka Salonen's Violin Concerto was finished and given its first performance at Walt Disney Concert Hall in spring 2009, during his feverish and emotional final days as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Salonen said it wasn't a farewell concerto.
4:37 PM PDT, October 22, 2013
LAS VEGAS — Las Vegas is changing. Not the strip, a symphony of ersatz that only knows how to become more so. Along with a phony Paris or sham Sphinx, the city has a fairly recent faux Frank Gehry design that serves as a home to high-end shops, including Prada and Louis Vuitton (which should know a thing or two about knockoffs).
3:00 PM PDT, October 20, 2013
The Los Angeles Philharmonic's monthlong 10th-anniversary celebration of the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall entered Phase 2 on Friday night. Esa-Pekka Salonen was back. And it was old-home week.
8:05 AM PST, November 4, 2013
Pasadena has changed little over the past half-century. What's new, of course, is Old Pasadena. But much of the city remains recognizably old Pasadena.
7:05 PM PDT, October 13, 2013
There is an anecdote about Einstein from when he taught at Caltech in the early 1930s. One day, pianist and Beethoven specialist Artur Schnabel came to visit the famed physicist, who was an avid amateur violinist, and they read through a Beethoven violin sonata. It didn't go well. Fumbling a tricky rhythm, Einstein got lost, and Schnabel exclaimed in frustration, "Albert, you can't count!"
6:30 AM PDT, October 11, 2013
On one side of 1st Street in downtown L.A., Einstein looms large. On the other side, Socrates. Who can possibly walk among them? Why, Bach, of course.
4:10 PM PDT, October 16, 2013
"Lecture on Nothing," which is published in John Cage's "Silence," is a classic, studied and often recited. One of its much-quoted lines is "I have nothing to say and I am saying and that is poetry as I need it." The conductor Robert Spano read the lecture at the 2006 Ojai Festival, as the director Peter Sellars once did at the Salzburg Festival, slowly savoring every instant.
6:00 AM PDT, October 9, 2013
Wednesday night in Walt Disney Concert Hall, the probing Hungarian pianist András Schiff begins the third round in his three-season survey of Bach's major keyboard works suitable for piano by playing the six "English" Suites.
5:00 AM PDT, October 15, 2013
Socrates was said to have been the ugliest man in Athens. We don't know much about the great thinker on whom modern philosophy is grounded, but we do have a pretty good notion that he had bulging eyes and a disagreeable nose. He was grubby. He was often barefoot. He must have smelled bad.
5:00 AM PDT, October 9, 2013
It was said to have been a disastrous seven days for classical music in America. "Hell week" is what Russell Platt called it in the New Yorker last week.
5:00 AM PDT, October 5, 2013
After a week of the Los Angeles Philharmonic celebrating its 10th anniversary, Walt Disney Concert Hall is, at last, Walt Disney Concert Hall once again.
6:30 AM PDT, October 1, 2013
It looked on paper, with a few small exceptions, like an ordinary season-opening gala, the kind every major U.S. orchestra seems to practice these days — a jumble of Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Saint- Saëns favorites.
9:00 AM PDT, October 5, 2013
NEW YORK — What opera launched a legendarily prolific opera career, influenced a generation of opera composers and is an American opera classic, yet is not an opera and has only been mounted a handful of times in the 37 years since its premiere? That's an easy riddle. It's "Einstein on the Beach," which Los Angeles Opera will present next weekend at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
1:18 PM PDT, September 30, 2013
Although it is now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Walt Disney Concert Hall has been in operation during 11 calendar years, and in each one history has been made.
5:00 AM PDT, September 24, 2013
The Los Angeles Master Chorale did what organizations are expected to do when they are about to turn 50. It looked back and patted itself on the back.
8:00 AM PDT, September 28, 2013
A wrathful, wondrous, clairvoyant, powerfully sexual and just as powerfully beyond-sex Maori women's dance ritual had its astonishing first public presentation Thursday night as part of Radar L.A.
6:00 AM PDT, September 27, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — A Stephen King opera had to happen. Many of his 56 novels have been made into movies and have spent time on bestseller lists, making King a king of pop culture accessibility — just what the opera world lusts after these days.
7:30 AM PDT, September 23, 2013
4:16 PM PDT, September 19, 2013
The guitar is the world's most popular instrument and that's not about to change. It's an instrument that does it all. So let Eric Clapton wail for as long as he's agile. Let Milos Karadaglic, the young Montenegrin classical guitar star, grow and thrive.
9:00 AM PDT, September 20, 2013
For a few foolish moments in the feverish run-up to the opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall 10 years ago, cynical wags nicknamed the new venue Mouse House. Tomorrowland would have been more like it. The Los Angeles Philharmonic has enjoyed the most remarkable decade of its nearly 100-year history.
9:15 AM PDT, September 12, 2013
The fall music season will begin with dissent. Petitions have been circulated calling for companies that employ Russian artists, such as the Metropolitan Opera and San Francisco Opera, to protest Russian President Vladimir Putin's human rights policies, especially those that deny rights to gays and lesbians. Good luck. Most administrators in today's classical music world fear taking a strong stand lest they bite the hands of the private donors, corporations or governments that feed them.
5:30 AM PDT, September 9, 2013
In the world of postmodern opera production, setting "Carmen" on a cruise ship or "La Bohème" on a submarine is no longer considered eccentric. Stage directors are paid to come up with concepts. And so for his Long Beach Opera production of Peter Lieberson's "King Gesar" on Saturday night, Andreas Mitisek had both the Queen Mary and a submarine docked in front of it. His backdrop was the Long Beach skyline. He even included the sounds of Long Beach's beloved Lobster Festival wafting over the bay.
4:15 PM PDT, September 6, 2013
The novelty at the Hollywood Bowl Thursday night was not the dance. Nor was it Diavolo.
2:20 PM PDT, August 28, 2013
They laughed when Leon Botstein became president of Bard College in 1975, at the very idea that a 28-year-old could enliven a venerable New York liberal arts college. They laughed in 1990 when Botstein started the Bard Music Festival, which had the appearance of a vanity operation for his own seemingly dubious ambitions as a conductor. They laughed once more when he became music director of the American Symphony Orchestra 20 years ago, especially after some rocky early performances and scathing reviews.
3:32 PM PDT, August 30, 2013
The Hollywood Bowl is meant to be an exceedingly pleasant place to spend a mild Southland summer evening. The real truth is that this unseasonable summer has probably been a gift to the Bowl gift shop, at least for selling sweat shirts to the unprepared.
3:40 PM PDT, August 23, 2013
A good place for the Los Angeles Philharmonic to try out new talent, the Hollywood Bowl can be curiously hospitable to odd couples. Concerts are one-night stands, so there is less to lose than at downtown subscription concerts, where programs are repeated three or four times.
5:00 AM PDT, August 26, 2013
It was only natural that "Naturale" would serve as the centerpiece for the What's Next? Ensemble's micro-series program Saturday night at Monk Space, designed to explore "musical concepts of space, time and place."
4:40 PM PDT, August 12, 2013
I wonder whether the 9,985 who showed up at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday to hear Gustavo Dudamel conduct a wild and properly woolly concert performance of "Aida" included any of the Hollywood producers responsible for this summer's crop of unsuccessful blockbusters. It would be nice to think so, because Verdi's opera is an object lesson in the art of blockbusterism without the bluster.
10:30 AM PDT, September 4, 2013
This post has been corrected. See note below.
5:00 PM PDT, August 14, 2013
As the ambience at the Hollywood Bowl becomes increasingly casual and the facilities snazzier (there is a trendy new wine bar along with this summer's smart new outdoor furniture and upgraded audio and video equipment), the Los Angeles Philharmonic has found it necessary to flash a warning on the high-definition monitors before concerts and at intermission: "Be Good, or Be Gone." But does the orchestra really mean it?
5:00 AM PDT, August 1, 2013
Forget video for now, those incandescent new hi-def Hollywood Bowl screens that are delighting some Los Angeles Philharmonic fans and driving others away. Let's talk sound. The new amplification equipment has been enthusiastically embraced by, it seems, everyone.
7:35 PM PDT, August 18, 2013
LA JOLLA — SummerFest, one of the country's most significant chamber music festivals, devoted its annual program of new work Friday night at Sherwood Auditorium in the Museum of Contemporary Art here to three American masters. The composers — Steven Stucky, David Del Tredici and John Harbison — are major figures and had never before appeared together on a program. Their works had something to say.
4:55 PM PDT, July 24, 2013
"The Rite of Spring," having reached the 100th celebratory anniversary of its clamorous Paris premiere this spring, is the new "Four Seasons." Igor Stravinsky's ballet score has become ubiquitous.
5:00 PM PDT, July 30, 2013
SANTA BARBARA — Midori is a formal and famously unflappable violinist. I don't know whether she is fearless, but she may be that too. She came to our attention at age 14 in 1986 as a soloist for Leonard Bernstein in his "Serenade." She broke two strings during the performance, but nothing fazed her. Bernstein bowed to her afterward in awe.
4:21 PM PDT, July 12, 2013
Fate has a fateful way of slipping into symphonies. The famous opening of Beethoven's Fifth is said to be fate's knocking on the door. Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony, which concluded Michael Tilson Thomas' program with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Thursday night, begins with a fate motive in the brass. Unlike Beethoven, the tortured Russian composer never fully shakes off fortune. The motive finishes the symphony by exultantly dooming jollity.
10:00 AM PDT, July 13, 2013
The venerable German record label Deutsche Grammophon has just signed Schiller. No, not Friedrich Schiller, the poet and playwright whose "Ode to Joy" is the text for the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (which has been recorded on DG by Karajan, Bernstein and many other major maestros). We're talking the platinum-selling German electronica band Schiller, which is named after said Friedrich.
6:00 AM PDT, July 29, 2013
Peripatetic doesn't begin to describe iPalpiti, which gave its annual sensational — and strange — gala at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Saturday night.
8:10 PM PDT, July 29, 2013
We sing more songs of the moon and the stars than of the sun. Google it. The moon and stars win by many millions. Music and night merge differently than music in daylight — or even artificial light for that matter, as the debate over the new high-luminosity Hollywood Bowl monitors indicates. Night invites magic and mystery and, well, music.
8:00 AM PDT, July 27, 2013
Two experiences that helped foster my devotion to music, growing up, were watching Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts" and going to the Hollywood Bowl.
5:00 AM PDT, July 4, 2013
In the spirit of musical independence this Fourth, may I propose two effective, if buggy, tools for liberation? One is an iPod slayer. The other is an anti-iPod. The former plays music despite its many software bugs. The latter entices you into the realm of bug music.
5:00 AM PDT, July 3, 2013
SANTA BARBARA — Feted by the New York Philharmonic, prominent at the hotshot Salzburg and Lucerne summer festivals and about to become the next music director of the celebrated Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris, the 42-year-old German conductor and composer Matthias Pintscher made his West Coast debut Monday night.
4:30 AM PDT, August 3, 2013
Had someone asked me before a performance of Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater" at the Hollywood Bowl on Thursday night what I thought about Scott Simon's live tweeting his mother's death, I would have answered that I am not among the multitude of moved twitterati. I interpreted an NPR newscaster's employment of sympathy as a form of emotional self-aggrandizement, a warm bath of pathos.
5:00 AM PDT, July 11, 2013
The first night of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's summer season is no longer treated as Opening Night at the Hollywood Bowl, now that the Hall of Fame awards concert a couple of weeks earlier draws the fanciest picnics. That June concert was also the unveiling of the Bowl's updated audio and visual setup.
6:30 AM PDT, July 15, 2013
SongFest is the remarkable summer vocal training program, begun in 1996, formerly at Pepperdine University and currently housed at the Colburn School. "Songfest" is Leonard Bernstein's dozen songs for six singers and orchestra, written as a contribution to the U.S. bicentennial festivities in 1976 (but not finished until 1977).
6:00 AM PDT, July 2, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — "West Side Story," West Coast style, may seem oxymoronic. Certainly, the context for a colorful and wondrous, historic "West Side Story," given in concert by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony here Sunday afternoon, was radically exotic for a quintessential New York musical.
4:09 PM PDT, July 17, 2013
Some conductors speak to the audience at the Hollywood Bowl. Some don't. It's up to them, but a few well-chosen remarks can be a good way to get an audience's attention. Plus, this summer's new hi-def video screens are meant to bring the intimacy of watching TV in your living room to the immense amphitheater.
4:05 PM PDT, June 20, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — There have been, in modern times, three Marilyns, a couple of Lulus and Lolitas, and many Moby Dicks with their own operas. Now, suddenly and out of the blue, we have two new operas, or in this case operatic Passion plays, about Mary Magdalene.
6:00 AM PDT, June 19, 2013
"Berberian Sound Studio" — the creepily offbeat new British independent film in which Toby Jones plays a timorous sound-effects specialist working on a '70s Italian horror flick — takes its title and inspiration from the late American mezzo-soprano Cathy Berberian. That's the least director Peter Strickland, whose title for the film is a new music in-joke, could do. But it is also the minimally least we can do to remember the singer who changed singing perhaps more than any vocalist since the 18th century castrato Farinelli turned Handel's and other Baroque composers' musical heads.
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.
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.'"
6:46 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.
5:15 PM PDT, June 21, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO — Thursday was the last day of the spring of "The Rite of Spring." By now everyone and his or her brother has seemingly found a way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the riotous Parisian premiere of Stravinsky's famed ballet. With so many such rites — including Mark Morris' intriguing new choreography that premiered in Berkeley last week — you might expect the "Rite" to have finally run its course.
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.
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.
5:11 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.
5:00 AM PDT, May 13, 2013
Opera was born to be mad.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
6:10 PM PDT, April 29, 2013
The Los Angeles Philharmonic sent Lionel Bringuier out into the world on Sunday afternoon. Lucky world.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
April 28, 2012
So what would Beethoven drive?
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.
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.
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.
May 31, 2009
Sir André, come home.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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