Alhambra, Chengdu Taste, Elliott Carter, Evan Hughes, Festival de Mexico, Hollywood Farmers Market, Joan Huang, Los Angeles International New Music Festival, Martin Perlich, Song Hong Ensemble of Hanoi, Venice Beach Walkway, William Kraft
Everyone needs a Lucky Sunday.
Though I still have a few months to go before announcing my 2015 Los Angeles International New Music Festival, there have been a lot of behind the scenes developments that are beginning to shape next steps. It’s a process of reconnecting with old friends, bumping into to new ones (from Hanoi of all places), and planning for important trips to New York City, Carnegie Hall, Mexico City and the Festival de Mexico in the New Year.
Living in Los Angeles grounds my love for seeing, hearing and tasting the world. And my friends in Los Angeles ground my vision for next steps. We’ve reconnected with two of the inspirations of our life, composer William Kraft and author/broadcaster Martin Perlich, caught up with bass-baritone Evan Hughes at Walt Disney Concert Hall, had a visit from Virgil Blackwell (Elliott Carter’s assistant for over 20 years), and by chance bumped into new friends from Hanoi, Thuy Thu Thuy and her daughter, Nhu Pham.
Everyone needs a Lucky Sunday.
I’m not making this up. I couldn’t if I wanted to, but when you bump into friends from Hanoi, Vietnam shopping for groceries at the Hollywood Farmers Market, you have to wonder how life connects. In Mexico, this story could be a little milagro, a nice way to describe the chance meeting or event that brings life together. Or as Thuy Thu Thuy would say, “Lucky Sunday!”
Time for a flashback to last April!
You can search several earlier posts about the wonderful Eastertime visit Jan and I enjoyed from the promising and eager Song Hong Ensemble of Hanoi. If you look carefully at the picture above, you’ll see a young woman, Nhu Pham, between Jan and her father, Pham Truong Son. Nhu Pham is currently an exchange student at San Jose State studying graphic design.
Fast forward from last April to last month. Jan and I often enjoy shopping at the Hollywood Farmers Market on Sunday mornings. Nhu Pham’s mom, Thuy Thu Thuy, had come to California from Vietnam to visit her daughter over the Thanksgiving holiday. Like everyone else in Vietnam, they have relatives in Orange County. Nhu Pham had come to Los Angeles to visit her dad in April and tagged along to our visit to the Hollywood Farmers Market.
Thuy Thu Thuy and Nhu Pham were on their way to Orange County to visit their relatives the weekend before Thanksgiving. They planned a brief stop in Los Angeles and because time was short hadn’t contacted us. Before heading off to Orange County, daughter wanted to show mom some Los Angeles sights. Thuy wanted to see the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the footprints of Grauman’s Chinese Theater (she loves Robert de Niro) and walk on the west coast of the Pacific Ocean from Venice Beach. On the Metro ride from their hotel, Nhu Pham recognized the stop for the Hollywood Farmers Market and thought her mom would like a visit, maybe buy a small breakfast, as Nhu had a last minute memory of her market trip in April with us and the Song Hong group.
As I’m selecting some chard, I recognize Nhu Pham, and to our incredible surprise we have bumped into each other with no advance planning! They had been saying to each other that they were sorry their trip to Los Angeles was so short and wouldn’t have time to look us up and here we are! We threw our plans for the day out the window and spent the day with them, touring from Venice Beach to West Hollywood, Rodeo Drive and finally downtown and Walt Disney Concert Hall. Chances like this need an enthusiastic response!
And after dropping off our groceries at our Pasadena home, we had a relaxing Vietnamese tea to welcome our guests. Thuy is a wonderful singer, and since her English is like our Vietnamese, where words are vocabulary but not thoughts and sentences, she SANG two heartfelt ‘thank you’ songs in Vietnamese as a present. Here’s her first song, which Nhu Pham videoed. What a voice!
I’ve written a lot in my blog about Vietnam and Asia, it’s influence on me and music in the West. You can easily search other posts for a lot of information, from music to culture to food and travel. Thuy’s songs of gratitude, for Jan and me, summed up the changes we’ve worked towards, as Vietnam and the U.S. have a difficult past to address. Listening to her ‘thank you’ songs, a smart alternative to struggling English sentences, made us all know that through music we have created a new chapter. And this includes a lot of friends across the ocean in Vietnam, you need more than ten fingers and toes to count them all, trust me. We dreamt that we could hear them all sing with her. I am sure some exciting developments are on the way. But Thuy wanted to sing again as a gift to us and our house (after all, we have had three visits from Hanoi friends since Easter!). I’m happy to share the second song with you.
The centerpiece you see on my dining room table was a present from the wonderful Vietnamese clarinetist, Bao Coc. As far as the next LA International New Music Festival is concerned, Bao arranged an important lunch in Hanoi with Nguyen Thien Dao where a new piece for us here in Los Angeles was discussed. Stay connected in the New Year! Vietnamese Xenakis is on the way and I’m excited about the next step this represents for new music between Vietnam, France (Dao is a French citizen and lives in Paris) and the United States.
It’s a good bet that Thuy was surprised and comforted to see such a familiar Vietnamese icon on our table, in the form of a Water Puppet fisherman and the plate and globes from Bao. After her second song, we enjoyed one of those moments where the camera doesn’t lie. Jan took the picture and, oh, what a Lucky Sunday!
So with groceries delivered and tea and songs enjoyed, it was time to get down to business, as travel days are always energetic. Nhu Pham had a big wish to show her mother the Pacific Ocean. She had returned to school in San Jose when we went to Venice Beach on Easter Sunday with her dad and the Song Hong group and missed out on a lot of fun that Easter Sunday. We were very happy to oblige with a tour of the Venice Beach Walkway.
Mom and daughter also wanted a long walk on the beach. Even with the cold November winds, it was warm enough for all of us to take in the ocean, dreaming of a connectedness that was impossible to ignore. Best beach walk ever. Just across our Pacific Ocean lies their Pacific Ocean, a body of water that knows no East or West, the stuff that dreams are made of.
Lucky Sunday indeed!
And now back to other Los Angeles connections. We had another Lucky Sunday the following weekend, after the Thanksgiving holiday. Always try to learn from the president of the company, Cage’s recommendation, remains our motto.
Jan and I have been reconnecting with a true Los Angeles icon, composer William Kraft. He turned 91 in September and remains in great shape, with the life experience of masterful compositions and playing for true giants like Stravinksy, Boulez, Cage, Carter, Stockhausen, Berio, Harrison and last but not least, Bill is the timpani soloist in Bernard Hermann’s score for Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. Since Elliott Carter lived and composed until he was 103, we’re hoping to inspire Bill to just keep on moving forward (more on that soon). Jan and I had had a great dinner in July with Bill and his wife, Joan Huang, pianist Gloria Cheng and her husband, Lefteris Padavos. That dinner (no photos as Lefteris is a professional photographer) put an idea in my head for another get together.
Why not pair Kraft with another legend, Martin Perlich?
I love new characters, and now is the first, but by no means the last, appearance of a tried and true best friend. Martin began his legendary broadcasting career by interviewing Leonrad Bernstein, was the voice of the Cleveland Orchestra and George Szell radio broadcasts, is an Honorary Member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, interviewed almost every major figure in classical music (imagine the Larry King of classical music and that’s Martin) written two vivid biographical novels set against a backdrop of what has gone wrong with public radio (a bigger subject than this blog so read his novels, but to be kind I think their playlist clocks stopped in 1910 and it’s been tea-time ever since, to paraphrase W.H. Auden). There are two more novels to come so stay connected. His archive is held at UCLA Special Collections, so take a look if you’re curious (and yours truly facilitated introductions for Martin to UCLA). And his most recent book of poetry includes a beautiful ‘Ode to Jan’ a touching thank you for her tireless work putting music in motion around the world as well as here in Los Angeles.
And let me not forget the food! This needed some thought as Martin’s wife, Lucile Romieu, is from France (Paris via Montpellier). Bill’s wife Joan Huang, is from China (Shanghai via Mao’s Cultural Revolution and UCLA). Talk about food traditions! What to make?!?
So I’ll give you a keep it easy menu. Except for the cocktail, which was a holiday treat of muddled Hachiya persimmon with New England corn whiskey, mint and lime juice, The Last Mohican (seemed appropriate, and fun fact is that Bill makes a great martini, dry as can be and wonderful).
I phoned home for the first course, Celery Victor, a specialty of my mom’s (and can be made a day ahead). Then for the entree I did a five spice powder rub on duck legs and thighs which then braised in a slow oven for hours. Once you sear the duck, just add prunes, a sweet onion, orange peel and an entire bottle of red wine. Cooking time is not important as this dish just bubbles slowly between 250 and 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Jan put together a simple cheese course for dessert and since it was Bill and Joan’s 23rd anniversary, we opened a bottle of Sauterne – getting older is good!
Now, regarding Bill Kraft turning 91, I like to remind him that Elliott Carter composed until he was 103 and there is plenty of time on the clock. Welcome to a Brave New World of longevity!
We were introduced to bass-baritone Evan Hughes by Carter in 2009. I wanted to program Carter’s On Conversing with Paradise for our historic project with Vietnam, Ascending Dragon. The work was under exclusivity and consideration for its U.S. premiere by a few of the most important conductors in the classical music world. so I thought I’d try a Hail Mary letter to Elliott, and explain Ascending Dragon to him. The score was technically graspable to the Vietnamese players, which surprised me and turned out to be true. I felt that a performance of a major Carter premiere would put down a marker for future projects, and time will tell if my hunch pays off dividends. And by the time we performed the work after a second series of rehearsals here in Los Angeles we gave a very good performance.
My correspondence regarding On Conversing with Paradise with Carter was handled by Virgil, who was Carter’s assistant. The only condition Carter had was that we engage Evan, and the exclusivity release would be relaxed and we’d receive the Asian and U.S. premieres. All this correspondence between me and Carter and Boosey and Hawkes was handled expertly by Virgil, and a big thank you to him!
When we heard Virgil had moved to Carmel we stopped by to see him this past March on our way to San Francisco (see some earlier posts for more details). And so with Evan making his Los Angeles Philharmonic debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall, Virgil came down to LA for a short visit, took in the concert, visited Betty Freeman’s archive with me, and had dinner with Bill, Joan and Jan and me.
I had asked Virgil what he might be missing, foodwise, since he relocated from New York City. He answered quickly, that he had a hankering for good Sichuan food. Once I heard that, I texted Joan, who went into action. She made a few calls and recommended Chengdu Taste at 828 W. Valley Blvd. in Alhambra as the best Sichuan (to my many international readers, LA County comprises the whole area, so if you are planning a visit many places are considered LA outside of the city proper).
Thank God we all loved the spicy, close to the edge heat of Sichuan food at Chengdu Taste. The LA Weekly just listed it as the top Chinese place in Los Angeles (see my parenthetical thought above) and we’d concur. And whenever possible, go to a Chinese restaurant with Joan Huang. The dragon fish you see above was off the menu, and I doubt a non-Mandarin speaking person could order it successfully. Ma Po Tofu, Toothpick Cumin Lamb, Sichuan Eggplant, green beans with Sichuan peppercorns, Dan Dan noodles, and the-not-for-sissies-but-oh-so-good Kung Pao Chicken delighted everybody.
Don’t miss Chengdu Taste if you live in or visit Los Angeles!
And we realized that all five of us were alumnae of Tanglewood! Bill said it changed his life in 1948, Jan and I are a summer romance still going strong since 1979, Virgil was there in the 1960s and Joan studied with Alexander Goehr at Tanglewood in the 1990s. I always find another story from Bill, even after 30 years. This time it was his description of the impossible to follow beat patterns of Serge Koussevitsky in Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler. He asked a BSO member how he knew when to play, and the answer was “..when I feel it’s time for a G, I play one.” Ear intuition is a good habit for musicians to acquire!
Jay Belloli is our Southwest/LAINMF board president and met us at Walt Disney Concert Hall for the Green Umbrella Concert with Matthias Pintscher and Evan Hughes. Virgil is from Texas and Jay had worked in Houston. I must say the two of them hit it off better than I could ever have imagined.
Hearing Evan in a new work by Matthias Pintscher was fantastic, as was the entire concert. If your local orchestra ignores new work come to Los Angeles for a visit. The success here is absolutely tied to an adventurous spirit, one of the best of any major orchestra in the world. You might get inspired again.
Evan and I are talking about quite a few projects, as we’ve done two Carter song cycles, recorded Gabriela Ortiz’s Rio Bravo (his first recording) and world premiered The Song of Napalm by poet Bruce Weigl and composer Vu Nhat Tan. All this is taking shape this Christmas season, and we’ll wrap things up in March in the Big Apple.
And speaking of the Big Apple (the home of Carnegie Hall) you can find Jan and me in New York City in March 2015. Evan is singing the world premiere of Carter’s The American Sublime with its dedicatee, James Levine, conducting the MET Ensemble at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall, and the performance is already close to sold out. We’ll be visiting Jan’s family in Brooklyn and New Jersey, of course, but a concert like this is not to be missed. We got our tickets in August when the concert was announced to the public, though we’d known from Virgil since March it was a go.
But we have another proprietary reason to be at this Carnegie Hall concert.
Southwest and the LA International New Music Festival co-commissioned the second half of the upcoming Carnegie Hall concert with James Levine and the Tangelwood Music Center. Charles Wuorinen’s It Happens Like This was a big part of my 2013 LA International New Music Festival. Levine was to have conducted the Tanglewood premiere, but had to cancel due to illness and Charles took over. And the Carter work is dedicated to Levine, so a lot of loose strands are now coming together in March.
And for good measure, Levine is also performing works by Stravinsky and Ives as well as Cage’s Atlas Eclipticalis, which we also performed in Hanoi and Vietnam, and released a 1999 performance of Stephen L. Mosko conducting our players and high school students from John Muir High School in Pasadena. A pretty synchronous program for us, that’s for sure!
Working with the cast of Wuorinen’s work, also all alumnae of Tanglewood, was a pure joy. No nonsense. Pure musicianship putting forth a big new piece with a huge text by poet James Tate. From left to right the wonderful, inspiring quartet of singers are Douglas Williams, Steven Brennfleck, Laura Mercado-Wright and Sharon Harms. They sing Wuorinen’s score from memory and were flawless in our performance, at least Charles thought so, which is all I need to know. And they are with James Levine making their Carnegie Hall debut so I think that should end all arguments about their career trajectory (Evan is an old hand, having sung Carter’s Syringa with Levine a few years ago). Los Angeles, you heard them all first at our concerts! Jan and I are planning to clap loud and clear all night long, for Evan in Carter and Sharon, Laura, Steven and Douglas in Wuorinen, happy to have helped launch a major new American work with Levine and Tanglewood as co-commissioners.
And from New York City, Jan and I at this point plan on flying directly to Mexico City to discuss some important new projects, one with Gabriela Ortiz. We have so many friends that a visit is in order as we were last in Mexico in 2009. A few ideas have reached the point of a personal meeting being the only way forward, so our visit is coinciding with the Festival de Mexico to make sure everybody is in town. Stay connected!
So it’s been a productive autumn as the season turns to winter this weekend.
Pretty soon nuance will transform itself into decisiveness. Running into Thuy Thu Thuy and Nhu Pham, setting our internal clocks with William Kraft and Martin Perlich, cheering Evan Hughes on at Walt Disney Concert Hall, visiting with Virgil Blackwell and planning important visits to New York City and Mexico City, are all part of the backdrop of next steps.
Happy Holidays and hoping you have a Lucky Sunday as well this season!
Best, best, best,