Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Le Salon de Musiques Season: The Russians Are Coming

By Rodney Punt
You don’t have to speak French to appreciate the chamber music series “Le Salon de Musiques”, but the language does suggest the elegance surrounding you in its home on the Fifth Floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, overlooking the Music Center. The gold and green, velvet-draped space was once named, appropriately enough, The Impresario Room.
Le Salon’s classy, sometimes quirky format is reminiscent of the Parisian salons of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, where new works were presented and discussed by cognoscenti over thick tobacco and milky absinthe. In a less toxic homage to those storied encounters, this latter-day salon provides an appealing package of sunset to starlit music, scintillating conversation, a champagne and buffet dinner, and company ranging from chic to funky.
If its first two seasons were closely identified with the greatest hits of the Classical-Romantic era, Le Salon’s third season mixes into the format an intriguing number of virtually unknown chamber works from that era and later, all under the season's graceful banner of “Les Nouveaux Romantiques.”
The foray into new repertoire represents a growing confidence by Le Salon’s entrepreneurial Artistic Director Francois Chouchan and Co-Artistic Director John Walz in the enterprise’s plucky, loyal and ever curious audiences, who appear ready this year to explore new musical horizons.
Two Russians Launch a Season of Les Nouveaux Romantiques
The season opens on Sunday, October 14, with two works few are likely to have heard before: Mikhail Glinka’s Serenade for Piano Sextet on Theme from Bellini and Sergei Lyapunov’s Piano Sextet, Op. 63, the latter a U.S. premiere.
Glinka and Lyapunov were bookends of the Russian nationalist school, known for its fiery musical rhetoric, soulful melodies and colorful orchestrations. Glinka (1804-1857) came at the beginning of the era, incorporating such disparate influences as Italy’s bel canto operas and Hector Berlioz’s instrumentations, added to his own Russian folk tunes. He would later on earn the sobriquet “Father of Russian Music.” Lyapunov (1859-1924) blended two Russian styles, the internationalist of Tchaikovsky and the nationalist of Rimsky-Korsakov, that would make him one of the last proponents of the tsarist musical tradition. But he would flee his homeland for France in the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution. An entire era of Russian music is thus encapsulated in these two works.
The concert will be introduced by musicologist Julius Reder Carlson and performed by violinists Roger Wilkie and Sarah Thornblade, violist Rob Brophy, cellist Ron Leonard, contrabassist Nico Abondolo and pianist Gavin Martin.
Informal conversations between the musicians and the audience will follow the performance. To break the ice stylishly, the champagne will be FrenchTo cap the evening’s camaraderie, the gourmet buffet will be prepared by Patina.
Third Season Overview
Le Salon de Musiques’ third season will present eight concerts between October 2012 and May 2013. Five United States premieres and a retinue of rediscovered composers, deftly mixed with more familiar ones, should make for a season attractive to both regular and new concertgoers.
Chouchan has invited prestigious international artists to join in the series, many of whom have performed with the LA Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, and Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and occasionally recorded scores for nearby Hollywood film and television productions. By removing the stage and enveloping these artists within the audience, Le Salon de Musiques offers more personal and intimate experiences for listeners eager to familiarize themselves with chamber music and how it is performed.
Among the season’s composers, in addition to the above, will be Brahms, Caplet, Chopin, Ravel, Zarebsky, Widor, Bach, Debussy, Robert Schumann but also Camillo Schumann, Scharwenka, Delius and Bridge. (Full listing provided below.)

As Chouchan explains: “So many beautiful, melodic, lyrical and romantic pieces are still rarely performed. My idea was first to find and choose some of the most inspired lesser known and great German, Russian, Polish, and French composers and bring them out to combine an expressive, touching and moving program, which makes this season unique.”
2012 Season of Le Salon de Musiques: Les Nouveaux Romantiques
NOTE: All concerts at Fifth Floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (overlooking the Music Center) on the second Sunday of every month, October 2012 through May 19, 2013, between 4:00pm - 6:00pm.
October 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm:
 GLINKA: Serenade for Piano Sextet on Theme from Bellini, LYAPUNOV: Piano Sextet Op. 63 (USA PREMIERE).
November 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm
: CHARLES-MARIE WIDOR: Suite for Flute and Piano Op. 34
December 9, 2012 at 4:00 pm:
 SCHUBERT: Sonatensatz, Piano Trio D 28,
 SCHUBERT: Piano Trio Op 100 No. 2 in E flat Major D 929. 
January 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm:
 J.S BACH: Gamba Sonata No. 2,
February 10, 2013 at 4:00 pm: 
FRANK BRIDGE: Fantasy Piano Quartet, ZAREBSKY: Piano Quintet in G minor Op. 34 (USA PREMIERE
March 10, 2013 at 4:00 pm
: RAVEL: Piano Trio in A minor,
 DEBUSSY: Cello Sonata in D minor
, DEBUSSY: Violin Sonata in G minor
April 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm: 
CHOPIN: Cello Sonata op 65 in G minor
 CAMILLO SCHUMANN: Cello Sonata in C minor Op. 99 (USA PREMIERE), F.DELIUS: Romance for Cello and Piano
May 19, 2013 at 4:00 pm
: BRAHMS: Lieder for Soprano, Piano and Viola Op. 91, 
BRAHMS: Piano Quartet No.3 in C minor
 MAHLER: Piano Quartet in A minor
Single Ticket and Subscription Purchases
Single tickets: $65.00 per person.
$45.00 for students.
Subscription Discounts: 10% discount off single ticket price for a bundle of three or more concerts. 20% discount for the full season.
Photo by Carole Sternicha is used by permission of Le Salon de Musiques.
Rodney Punt can be contacted at [email protected]

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Los Angeles Master Chorale's Górecki “Miserere” CD

by Douglas Neslund

For the final concert of the Chorale’s 2011-2012 season, Maestro Grant Gershon organized a concert of the music of Henryk Górecki, with a Johannes Brahms ode for stylistic contrast. A day or two later, the Chorale reassembled in Walt Disney Concert Hall to record the following mostly a cappella Górecki creations: Lobgesang (op. 76) for mixed choir and glockenspiel, Miserere (op. 44) for 8-part choir and Pieśni Maryjne (op. 54) for mixed voices.

Lobgesang is a celebration of the 600th anniversary in the year 2000 of the birth of Johannes Gutenberg, whose invention of the moveable type printing press changed the world forever. The sound produced by the Master Chorale is world-class, hands down. From the initial fortissimo to the final pianissimo, during which a glockenspiel plays the name of the celebrant three times, the sound is magnificent. Perfectionists might quibble about a brief moment here or there where the choral balances are not just right, or obsess over the single less than pristine phrase attack, but the rest of us are blessed with a banquet of sumptuous choral singing probably unsurpassed anywhere in the world.

Miserere is an unhurried multi-movement work of great introspection and reflection over the three word plea: Domine Deus noster (Lord our God), first heard in 2002 as performed by the Master Chorale. Górecki wrote Miserere as a spiritual response to a horrific beating inflicted on Polish Solidarity movement members by communist police, and later, the murder by the government of an activist priest. The long stretches of music softly sung will be a revelation to a younger generation of listeners for whom music only exists as ear-shattering din. Such spun gold is anything but boring! The Chorale maintains a focus and laser-like intensity throughout that arrests the listener’s attention and simply will not let go.

Pieśni Maryjne are five Marian devotions set to Polish texts created by Górecki himself, and present a wide range of choral effects and content based largely on Polish folk songs.

The transparency of this recording reveals an aggregation of singers, but so much more than just singers. The Master Chorale, after a decade of leadership under Maestro Gershon, has been refined and molded by him into the perfect instrument to perform Górecki’s music.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is arguably the best venue in the world to hear a concert of a cappella choral music. In this recording, the warmth of the wooden interior and wrap-around stage area perfectly captures the Master Chorale as equally in the sensitive, delicate pianissimos as in their full-throated, wall of sound fortissimos. Decca’s team of recording specialists, editors and mixers have perfectly captured the Master Chorale’s singing and produced a winner, all made possible by a generous gift from Lillian and Jon Lovelace.

But most of all, this recording is an unmitigated triumph for Grant Gershon.

The CD’s accompanying notes are both informative and interesting, and presented in four languages: English, French, German and Polish. The CD may be obtained at 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Music Off The Record

by  Anne French



A quiet moment of music and meditation to honor the memory.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

HEAR NOW Music Festival in Venice, California

Review by Rodney Punt

Composers of serious music face limited performance prospects. It’s an old story, but a host of L.A.’s finest composers and musicians are writing it a happy ending. “It’s about revelation, making seen and heard what has been hidden”, said Hugh Levick, Artistic Director of HEAR NOW, A Festival of New Music by Contemporary Los Angeles Composers. He was speaking last weekend to a large audience as the second season of the festival commenced at The First Lutheran Church of Venice.

The key to this effort is that all its represented composers are living and reside in L.A. The festival's musicians are also local. This year they included the Lyris Quartet and members of Piano Spheres, Jacaranda’s ensembles, USC’s Thornton School of Music, the Long Beach Opera, and a scattering of L.A.’s virtuoso wind and string players.
To ensure high standards, a jury of peers selected the festival’s pieces, limited to one per composer. A side benefit of this format is that works which might not fit conceptual frameworks of traditional impresarios can be included here. No one could accuse the festival’s jury of age discrimination; the youngest composer, Phillip Golub, is still a teenager and the oldest, William Kraft, is rounding out his ninth decade. Two works received world premieres: Golub’s Orange Windows and Levick’s Code V.
Adjustments were made to last year’s inaugural format, which, as sincere an effort as it was, aired too many works of similar string sonorities. This year had a better mix; of the fifteen works on the program, eleven featured at least one stringed instrument, seven piano, six woodwinds, two percussion (other than piano), and one each voice and electronics. All the works last year were performed on a single day in two long concerts. This year's works were more smartly spaced, eight on Saturday and seven on Sunday. If the two concerts still ran a tad long, the audience showed patience in the face of quality.

The festival's focus was not on sound effects, aural tricks or conceptual puzzles, as interesting as those aspects of contemporary music can be in other settings. With one exception, the works’ modern aesthetics all employed traditional instruments, whether Western, Eastern or folk in origin. The advanced techniques of the elite musicians ensured strong advocacies for the works they performed.

The mission-style church’s high-beamed sanctuary facilitated musical clarity with its rich acoustic and low reverberation. However, the weekend’s hot weather inhibited airflow in the fully occupied space, requiring street-side windows to be opened during both concerts. The resulting traffic noise and frequent sirens from nearby Venice Boulevard added an unwanted obbligato to virtually every piece, some painfully so. Fortunately, and tellingly, listeners ignored those distractions.

Three featured string quartets under the stewardship of the Lyris Quartet expanded the boundaries of that venerable genre. The delicately tinged Wandering of Don Davis began with introspective close harmonies and legato dissonances in various registers and proceeded through episodic moods from placid to intense. An ascending melody on the cello yielded to a melismatic rhapsody by the first violin. African drummer Kwasi Badu’s rhythmic virtuosity informed Burton Goldstein’s String Quartet 2. Its aggressive, polyrhythmic angularity had musical shards seeming to fall from on high in many-speeded, astringent but tender cascades. The last line of Dante’s Paradiso inspired Veronika Krausas’s Il Sole e Altre Stelle (The sun and the other stars), dedicated to the memory of a pianist friend. Elegiac string whispers seemed like cries from afar. Aching dissonances, and later pizzicati with sustained cello and viola throbs, suggested a heavenly resurrection or at least an earthly accommodation.

The Lyris caressed all the delicacies of the three quartets with equal parts sensitivity and snap. A sweet-toned Alyssa Park (one month past giving birth to her first child) made the utmost of her searching violin solos in the Davis work.

Another standout violinist, Sarah Thornblade, gave a seraphic performance of the festival’s only non-piano solo, Vera Ivanova’s Quiet Light, which emulates the soft, incense-laden beams of a Russian Orthodox Church as they stream onto wall frescos. The work explored several registers of the violin as it simulated a church filling with luminescence.
The one work with non-acoustic sounds was Jason Heath’s Rain Ceremony. Alma Fernandez’s feverish viola provided the aural fodder for Heath himself on electronics. The ritualistic piece summons rain, and with it the uncontrollable forces of both procreation and destruction, depicted in what Heath describes as “the delayed playback of live sounds, … dynamic filters and samples controlled in real time by the intensity of the performer.” It proved both evocative and effective in its intended scenario.
The festival’s two works for solo piano could not have been more dissimilar. British-born (but frequent local visitor) Thomas Adès contributed his Concert Paraphrase on Powder Her Face. Based on his eponymous opera, it follows the tradition of Liszt’s pianistic extravaganzas. The work’s four stitched excerpts depicted the flirty thoughts and flitting scandals of a real life Duchess of Argyll. Sounding like an impressionistic nightmare, its impulse to waltz was constantly interrupted by willful counter-rhythms. Pianist Mark Robson gave the fiendishly difficult score a bracing performance, but the work betrayed its cut-and-paste origins with its greater dose of atmospherics than structure.
By contrast, Gernot Wolfgang’s short Still Waters recalls an old adage: to gain attention, speak softly. The exquisite work depicts a barely interrupted still lake. A two-note motif of complex but soft chords floats in ever changing harmonics. Impressionistic and atonal, the work suggests the expanding ripples by the frisson of its chords. Pianist Gloria Cheng imbued the lovely work with a Zen-like calm.
Whenever the woodwinds appeared in starring roles, the audience could expect healthy doses of both excitement and humor. Damian Montano’s three-movement Wind, a bubbling trio for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon had some of the insouciance of the last century’s French wind music, with the first movement’s playful angularity giving way to a melancholic reverie, followed by a dance-like finale. Judith Farmer’s bassoon had a particularly impressive workout with Stuart Clark’s clarinet and Leslie Reed’s oboe.
Eric Guinivan’s Autumn Dances moved the action east to a Japanese country setting, in an active but pleasing dialogue between Heather Clark’s flute (as stand-in-in for the wooden Shakuhachi) and the percussive sounds of M. C. Gordy’s pitched singing bowls, wooden planks, and piccolo woodblocks. Brett Banducci’s Basque Suites paired another flute, this time with cello. The title refers neither to Basques nor suites but to a series of abstract expressionist paintings by Robert Motherwell. Vliek-Martchev’s virtuoso gyrations travelled from legato to frenetic, darting in short, stabbing bursts like an animal escaping danger, while Timothy Loo’s cello scampered up and plunged down his registers in furious chase.
Five larger ensembles for mixed instrumental families provided the festival with additive layers of color and complexity. First came two traditional configurations: a piano quintet and a piano trio. Then followed three works for “Pierrot ensemble”, consisting of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. The term refers to Arnold Schoenberg’s first use of the grouping in his iconic work of exactly a century ago.

The piano quintet Orange Windows by 18-year-old Phillip Golub, received its world premiere in a committed performance by Vicki Ray and the Lyris Quartet. It’s a big-boned, two-movement torso of what the composer hopes to finish in the future. A furioso opening yields to a slower statement with variations and some nice pizzicati effects. The work’s name derives from a friend’s poem, the peculiar imagery of which attracted the composer.

Donald Crockett’s piano trio, Night Scenes, was homage to the cinema in four vignettes. Rapid passagework and noisy chords were sent to “Scatter the Barbarians”, relieved by lyrical solos in “The Blue Guitar”, first Ira Glansbeek’s wistful cello, then Shalini Vijayan’s pensive violin. Joanne Pearce Martin‘s piano ruffles signaled all to join in simultaneously. An ostinato heralded a jazzy-cool “Midnight Train” with the violin and cello singing “the song of the riders…” in a two-note motif as open strings suggested a train whistle. The finale’s impressionistic atmosphere evoked Edward Hopper’s “Night Hawks”, with its lonely figures in a diner. The violin and cello sang in harmonious octaves, but a sudden agitato suggested a lover’s quarrel.

Hugh Levick’s Code V, in its world premiere, had elements of both rondo (recurring theme or “identity”) and fugue (sharing that theme with another identity). The work “develops and works out a musical ‘DNA’ code for each of the five players”, as the composer described, but each code was “transferred and inhabited by all the different members of the ensemble.” This made for a complex agenda. As the intense interaction of these two dimensions unfolded, the moods of the various identities shifted from “despair to insouciance.” Intellectual formalism provided the roadmap for the work’s dense textures as they worked their way to a resolution from “no way out”, as Levick channeled Bach’s mental energies and Hindemith’s angularities. “The composition has to deal with and come to terms with itself", he stated, "just as we human beings have to deal with and come to terms with the shape-shifting givens with which life confronts us.” On the level of coming to terms with itself, Code V completed the mission it set out to do. It also added up to a lot of absorbed work for the five performers: Aron Kallay, perhaps Los Angeles’ most versatile keyboardist, on piano; Sara Andon, flute/piccolo; Eric Jacobs, clarinet/bass clarinet; Andrew Bulbrook, violin; and 
Ira Glansbeek, cello. 
Stephen Cohn’s Sea Change was characterized by its ever-forward thrust. The flute protagonist entered furtively, almost like a butterfly into a garden, but was soon caught in a lively scamper with the other instruments through various harmonies. When that initial energy wore itself down, a slower section with clarinet and cello in unison relaxed the pace, as if in a meadow where the flute could linger as clarinet trills caressed the moment. Soon the faster motif returned with more incidents until a furious unison chase had everyone running at top speed in 11/8 time to the end. Sara Andon’s flute took the lead, with Vicki Ray on piano, Eric Jacobs the clarinet, Grace Oh on violin, and Ira Glansbeek at cello. The carefully worked out piece pays dividends with the multiple hearings, as this writer has experienced. On this occasion, the performers took it slightly slower than a previous group, at a tempo perfect for the richer acoustics of this building, and thereby harnessed the natural energy from within rather than forcing it upon the piece. It was a standout work and performance.

Bill Kraft, the Grand Young Man of L.A.’s music scene, was granted the festival’s final word with his Settings from Pierrot Lunaire. The instrumental ensemble with soprano voice was the festival’s only vocal work. Arnold Schoenberg’s path-finding work of 1912 had used only 21 of 50 hallucinogenic poems by the Belgian Symbolist Albert Giraud. As homage seventy-five years later, USC’s Schoenberg Institute commissioned prominent composers to set others. Kraft chose four (“Feerie”, “Mein Bruder”, “Harlequinnade”, “Selbstmord”) as appropriate to his favored Impressionist musical style, deftly inflecting them with serial and atonal accents. His four vocal nocturnes, connected by instrumental interludes, emphasized colors and imagery over the grotesqueries of the original work.
Suzan Hanson's limpid soprano amplified and edified every nook of the sonorous church with expressionistic reveries, employing an occasional vocal glissandi in the manner of the original work’s characteristic Sprechstimme. She was magical. Conducted by Elizabeth Wright, the ensemble (Joanne Pearce Martin, piano; Sara Andon, flute/piccolo; Stuart Clark, clarinet/bass clarinet; Robert Brophy, violin/viola; Erika Duke-Kirkpatrick, cello; Ted Atkatz, percussion) rendered the masterful orchestration stylishly, with its spooky strings, jumpy piano and fluttering flute all spiked by inventive percussive effects. Kraft, once the LA Phil’s timpanist, made the percussion an ensemble unto itself: Vibraphone, vibraslap, Glockenspiel, snare drum, bass drum, tom-toms, tam-tam, bongos, sleigh bells and crotales. The unflappable Ted Atkatz handled the battery with aplomb.

Floating freely between determinacy and indeterminacy in dream-like regions, Kraft's nocturnally inspired Settings from Pierrot Lunaire brought a very successful HEAR NOW Music Festival gently into last Sunday’s dark night.


Photo by Bonnie Perkinson used by permission of HEAR NOW, A Festival of New Music by Contemporary Los Angeles Composers, Hugh Levick, Artistic Director.

Rodney Punt can be contacted at [email protected]