Faces to Watch 2014: Classical music | Yotam Haber, Sunny Yang and more

The Times asked its reporters and critics to highlight figures in entertainment and the arts who will be making news in 2014. Here’s who they picked:

Khatia Buniatishvili | Pianist

The sultry young Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili sneaked into Los Angeles under the radar last February for an underpublicized recital debut at Cal State L.A.'s Luckman Theatre. But her Los Angeles Philharmonic debut in January will not be so stealthy. Buniatishvili will be playing Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto with another young Eastern European — Polish conductor and Indianapolis Symphony Music Director Krzysztof Urbanski, who made an impressive Hollywood Bowl debut last year.

Conveniently found on YouTube rhapsodically carried away in the likes of Liszt and Rachmaninoff, wearing the reddest lipstick and conveying cinematic emotions, Buniatishvili may seem the ideal Hollywood pianist, the kind sultry actresses pretend to be when they portray classical pianists. What they can’t so easily reproduce, however, is Buniatishvili’s electrifying elegance. Two of her greatest champions happen to be two of today’s greatest musicians with exactly that same combination of passion and commitment — pianist Martha Argerich and violinist Gidon Kremer.

GRAPHIC: Faces to watch 2014 | Entertainment


Profeti della Quinta | Vocal group

Galilee may seem a strange place to put together a male vocal group that specializes in Italian Renaissance music, but the Israeli early music specialists known as Profeti della Quinta — now based in Switzerland — has particular reason to make a specialty of a late 16th and early 17th Mantuan composer. Salomone Rossi was a Jewish violinist in Monteverdi’s orchestra who invented the trio sonata and who became the first composer not only to write new music for Jewish religious services but to controversially introduce the polyphonic music into the synagogue.

Rossi is the subject of Profeti’s gorgeous new recording on Linn, “Il Mantovano Hebreo” and of a new Rossi documentary with the same title. On Jan. 30, Profeti will bring a rare Rossi program that includes a screening of the film to the newly renovated Wilshire Boulevard Temple on Wilshire, offered as part of the Da Camera Society’s Chamber Music in Historic Sites series.

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Sunny Yang | Cellist

The Kronos Quartet’s new cellist, Sunny Yang, has what might seem the hardest job in all string quartetdom. A recent USC grad born in Korea a dozen years after the famous new music foursome was formed, Yang joined Kronos in June just in time for the quartet’s 40th-anniversary celebrations. Were she expected to master the full Kronos repertory, that would include more than 800 works the ensemble has commissioned.

But Yang gets a break given that Kronos always has a large number of new quartet irons in the fire, which means all the players are learning new music all the time. Plus she has already proved a cool cucumber for whom no challenge seems too great, as evidenced by her appearances this fall in the U.S. premiere of Philip Glass’ complex and difficult Sixth String Quartet in Las Vegas and at a 40th birthday concert in Berkeley in which a theatrical performance of George Crumb’s “Black Angels” (the first piece Kronos ever played) ended the program with profound and darkly ecstatic poetry.

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Cool, yes, but she also cooked in Vegas with the old Kronos favorite, a once-shocking string quartet arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” and in Berkeley when the National guitarist Bryce Dessner joined Kronos for his recent piece, “Aheym.”

Yang’s first Los Angeles appearance with Kronos will bring her almost back to her Southland roots, not USC but — block that kick — UCLA for two programs in Royce Hall that include “Black Angels” on March 14 and an evening-long new work by Laurie Anderson, “Landfall,” March 15.

Yotam Haber | Composer

Young composers, righteously impatient over intolerance, are unleashing large forces to combat injustice. First there was Mohammed Fairuz’s “Poems and Prayers,” a symphony for hundreds of instrumentalists and singers that tackles the Palestinian and Israeli morass through persuasive music and poetry at UCLA this month. Next, the week of Martin Luther King Day at REDCAT and courtesy of CalArts comes Yotam Haber’s “A More Convenient Season.”

A commission from the University of Alabama at Birmingham to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a Ku Klux Klan church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four black children, this opera/oratorio for orchestra, chorus, vocal soloists, electronics and film takes its title from a letter King wrote from jail in which he famously declared “that justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

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Haber, 36, was born in Holland and grew up in Israel, Nigeria and Milwaukee. His music is similarly wide-ranging, taking inspiration from Minimalism, Modernism and world musical traditions. He serves as artistic director of MATA, a New York organization Philip Glass helped found to support young composers.

The composer calls “A More Convenient Season” not multimedia but multi-spectral. It envelops the audience with the sights and sounds of Birmingham in the ‘60s, the horror of the era but also it the strains of hallelujah that led to profound lasting change.

[For the Record, Jan. 3, 2014: An earlier version of this post misidentified the university that commissioned “A More Convenient Season.]