Thursday, April 23, 2009

Coming attraction: Pacific Serenades to spin a “Circle of Blue”

cccccccccooccccBilly Childs

This may come as a surprise to readers of the mainstream media, but there are actually other musical experiences this spring than just long farewells to conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen at the LA Phil’s Oedipus Rex, or buzz on the merits of the production at the LA Opera’s Ring. Monumentalism goes only so far; bigger than life musical thrills eventually need relief. Here’s a fast approaching May event that could downsize those overworked ears to a kinder, gentler human scale:

PACIFIC SERENADES presents the weekend after next a world premiere - a new work for string quartet by Grammy award-winning jazz pianist Billy Childs. On the eclectic program with it are Ravel’s String Quartet in F major and Mozart’s Duo in G major, for violin and viola, K. 423. Under the moniker “Circle of Blue” it promises a spectrum of sounds from mellow moments to assorted spiky rhythms and lots in between. Three performances (see below for details) may let you to find the one that works for you.

Childs knows his stuff; he has eight Grammy nominations and two wins to his name. His work on a program with Ravel is not coincidental, the French composer being one of his important influences. (Jazz and Ravel have always gotten on well, in Ravel’s own works and with his influence on early jazz composers like George Gershwin.)

“Billy has been blurring the lines between jazz and Western classical music for years, which fits right into our mission at Pacific Serenades” says director of Pacific Serenades, Mark Carlson.

“I’m not a string player”, Childs says, “though I took cello lessons. I have spent almost as much time on the phone as writing, asking string players, ‘Can you do this?’ It’s a very rhythmic, angular piece. I tried to incorporate some serial writing, some jazz or blues things.”

At the last concert in March, Carlson premiered a fine composition of his own, a little suite called View from a Hilltop, full of atmosphere and family memories. The five pieces were impressions from a favorite childhood vacation spot, suggesting in three of them a motorized arrival in Prologue, a quiet stillness in Fog, and melancholy tinged with regret in Lost. Carlson is a skilled musical craftsman and a good instrumental colorist, with a penchant for filmic effects.

Carlson's composer ear has also come in handy spotting talent in others. By the end of this season, Pacific Serenades, around these parts since 1982, will have commissioned and premiered 94 new works by 51 different composers. A grizzled veteran of the L.A. chamber music scene, it keeps a youthful profile with at least one new work every concert.

Remember the Ring’s goddess of youth, Freia, who spun apples to preserve the old gods' youth? Pacific Serenades should remain young at heart long after Wagner’s deities have for the last time bargained their immortality into oblivion next season.

Catch one of these "Circle of Blue" performances below, and note the extra fun you can have at a couple of the performance venues. You just may leave the scene feeling a little younger yourself.

(And by the way, this entry being posted on April 23, let's say Happy Birthday to William Shakespeare)


PACIFIC SERENADES – “Circle of Blue”
Maurice Ravel – String Quartet in F major
W. A. Mozart – Duo in G major, for violin and viola, K. 423
Billy Childs – New work for string quartet

Soloists: Roberto Cani (violinist), Connie Kupka (violin), David Walther (viola), David Speltz (cello)

Saturday, May 2; 4 p.m. - $55 - at a private home in Brentwood. Directions mailed to ticket holders upon receipt of their order.

Sunday, May 3; 4 p.m. - $32, students at door $5 - Neighborhood Church, 301 N. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena. The Gamble House museum, next door, offers a discounted tour at $8/person to Pacific Serenades patrons on concert dates only. Tours begin promptly at 2 pm and at 2:40 pm and last approximately one hour. Reservations are required and must be made at least 48 hours in advance of the concert date by calling 626.793.3334, ext. 16.

Tuesday, May 5; 8 p.m. - $32, students at door $5 - UCLA Faculty Center, 405 N. Hilgard Ave., on the UCLA campus in Westwood. Parking is available for $9 in Lot 2. In addition, prior to each concert, dinner at the UCLA Faculty Center is available for Pacific Serenades patrons. Reservations can be made by calling 310.825.0877.

Information and advance tickets: 213.534.3434 or visit

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