There is a trend going ’round the West Coast: august performing arts organizations trying to reinvent the concert experience off-site in search of new, perhaps younger audiences.
Los Angeles Opera’s Off-Grand series is one example. The San Francisco Symphony has SoundBox; San Francisco Opera has SF Opera Lab; and both the Seattle Symphony and Seattle Opera have opened new spaces this season. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s contribution appears to be Session, a floating series of concerts in unusual spaces, each curated by a composer.
I dropped in on Session on Thursday night at a landmark of old Hollywood, the Mack Sennett Studios in Silver Lake — built in 1916 and renovated in 2013 as a locale for film shoots, musical events, weddings and such. Composer, conductor and curator Matthias Pintscher, who happens to be in town leading LACO this weekend, devised a program that didn’t hesitate to explore extremes of avant-garde technique while also reaching back to music that was new in Sennett’s era (circa 1913). Direction and design were entrusted to Mat Sweeney and Sebastian Peters-Lazaro, a.k.a. the roving theater outfit Four Larks, and digital projections were provided by the Teaching Machine.
The results were, to say the least, unusual — cunningly unified in their reticence, a through-narrative without words where we in the audience continuously shifted our positions in the Sennett’s ancient, partitioned sound stage.
For openers, some sat in chairs and benches and others on floor mats as percussionists Ken McGrath and Alex Frederick gently stroked bass drums in “Stèle” by Gérard Grisey. “Sound men” manipulated mics over the performers as if this were a film shoot. A curtain then rose to reveal clarinetist Joshua Ranz and pianist Gloria Cheng, who extracted a wealth of mostly quiet, compressed, turn-of-the-20th-century Viennese matter from Alban Berg’s Four Pieces for Clarinet and Piano.
We were asked to turn around and face a string quartet from the LACO ranks working its ways through the abstract whisperings and fibrillations of Pintscher’s Study II for “Treatise on the Veil.” A little of that went a long way.
Then we were led out of that space into another, where we were suddenly facing a stark white set (even the Steinway piano was white) on which Cheng and LACO principal cellist Andrew Shulman worked their ways through Pintscher’s solemn, dissonant “Uriel.”
Switching our chairs in the reverse direction meant a switch of gears as Pintscher led a small ensemble in Ravel’s song cycle “Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé,” with mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung singing with the power and nuance that she brings to Mahler (whose “Das Lied von der Erde” she sings with the LACO this weekend). This particular Ravel work, which seemed to veer close to atonality in the third song, happened to fit compatibly within the contemplative moods of what came before.
Finally, as we got up yet again and moved back to our initial space, the entire soundstage was revealed as McGrath gave a set of bongos, tom-toms and bass drum an explosive workout in Iannis Xenakis’ “Rebonds A.”
You could sum up the program as a long paragraph of sentences written entirely in lower case, ending with a sudden exclamation point.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
This particular Session program will not repeat, but LACO does perform again this weekend with Matthias Pintscher conducting. The program includes Pintscher’s “Transir” for flute and chamber orchestra, featuring Henrik Heide; and Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” with mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and tenor Sean Panikkar
In Glendale: 8 p.m. Saturday at the Alex Theatre, 216 N. Brand Blvd.
At UCLA: 7 p.m. Sunday at Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, L.A.
Information: (213) 622 7001, www.laco.org