Abdiel Gonzalez, Ayana Haviv, Chichen Itza, Day of the Dead, Elissa Johnston, Elliott Carter, Gabriela Ortiz, Japan Prize, Jon Lee Keenan, LA International New Music Festival, REDCAT Theater, Southwest Chamber Music, Strand Bookstore, Tambuco Percussion Ensemble, Walt Disney Concert Hall
I am happy to announce the 2015 Los Angeles International New Music Festival will take place at the REDCAT Theater in Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Make your plans now to attend!
Between July 7th and 15th we’re offering five programs contributing to the hard to deny fact that Los Angeles is a leading force moving the classical music world forward in the 21st century, and doing it at top speed. And here’s hoping that many of the 8,000 devoted readers of my blog in over 115 countries might use our festival as a catalyst to visit southern California!
Read on for my July 2015 LA International New Music overview!
Let’s start by marking our calendars for 8 PM performances Tuesday July 7, Wednesday July 8, Thursday July 9, Tuesday July 14 and Wednesday July 15. I’m excited to return to REDCAT after my ensemble’s first performances there in October of 2011.
Casting a programmatic web from Central and South America to the Pacific Community of Asia, these five concerts will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our Southwest Chamber Music collaborations with the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble of Mexico City. Tambuco and Southwest have the most significant relationship between ensembles in the Americas. I am thrilled that these good friends will be in Los Angeles as Ensemble in Residence throughout the festival. Keep reading while you mark your calendar!
I will be announcing complete program details in early May, after Jan and I have spent a few weeks in Mexico City talking late into the night with Ricardo Gallardo, the director of Tambuco, chiseling into stone all of the final details of composers, works, instrumentation, rehearsals and nuts and bolts. Anticipate an expanded horizon of countries in our programs, that’s for sure. All five concerts will address glaring programmatic gaps, found not just here in Los Angeles, but throughout the classical world.
Because Ricardo and I, as the leaders of Tambuco and Southwest, share the vision that in the 21st century power and influence are permanently diffused, with an essential imprimatur from Europe or the East Coast of the United States a thing of the past. Get over it, New York! Move on, London or Paris!
Because the sounds of the Americas,
the gongs and rattles, deer hooves and maracas of mythic and vanished civilizations, connect us to an ancient past well worth claiming artistically, as much as the Age of Enlightenment claims the world of Bach for those in Europe. For when you willingly submit to this deeper past in the Americas, you easily grasp that the standard repertoire of Western classical music comes up empty. Mozart doesn’t leap to mind. Neither does Mahler or Tchaikovsky.
And along with my friends in Mexico, we here in Calfornia also share the Pacific Ocean as our coastline.
A parallel development for Tambuco and Southwest since our first concerts a decade ago is that we have both experienced transformative projects with Asia. Tambuco received the Japan Prize for its advocacy of composers from that extraordinary country in the Pacific (they are the first ensemble from the Americas to be so honored) and Southwest produced two historic cultural exchanges, first independently with Cambodia and Vietnam in 2006 and in 2010, for Hillary Clinton’s State Department, the largest cultural exchange in the history of the U.S. and Vietnam. Both Tambuco and Southwest maintain Asian friendships that strengthen with each passing season. Absorbing and discussing these organizational developments are a big topic of our upcoming trip to Mexico City.
Because the vast sounds of Asia….
with its pitched gongs, shakuhachis and kotos, gamelans, tablas and sitars, connect us to The Other Side of the World, to cultures reaching back in time still binding us to humanity’s unbroken origin. There is no creation myth for Chinese culture, no abroad for a past Chinese emperor to visit as China ruled “All Under Heaven” for millennia. Many religious festivals in India continue as they have since antiquity, surviving impervious to the era of the British Empire. Tambuco’s reception by the Emperor of Japan needed three hours of protocol for a ten minute audience. The gamelans of Indonesia transformed Paris over a century ago. And though the creative forces of Europe paid an at times awkward colonial attention to Asia, it would be a mistake to think that the highest 21st century ambition in the East would be to receive Honorary Citizenship from the West or a membership card into a French Impressionist Club.
For the 2015 Los Angeles International New Music Festival, Ricardo and I will by design open the doors wide to both Central and South American and Pacific Community composers for three festival concerts scheduled for July 7, July 9 and July 14. Details to be announced in May after Ricardo and I meet in Mexico City.
My blog allows me to share more thoughts and plots than the old printed newsletters or brochure blurbs. Because the backdrop of my family life since 2008 has been often draining and exhaustive elder care. As I approach turning 60 this summer, I’ve reached the sad milestone that my parents and all my aunts and uncles are no longer living. I know I’m not unique – many of you all over the world have to cope with similar unalterable circumstances.
As I wrote in my last blog, I want these concerts to attack cultural complacency and programmtic routine. Our program on Wednesday July 8th would, in a perfect musical world, be common place by now. But it’s not, so we’re happy to build a bridge over the sea of routine that often stands in for artistic programming.
As I’ve written in past blogs, Gabriela and I share a long artistic relationship, dramatically encouraged by a 2013 Latin Grammy nomination for our CD performance of her Elegia. Written in honor of the death of her mother, I received the news of the nomination in Hanoi, Vietnam, a city where my wife and I learned of the death of my mother-in-law in 2009, less than three weeks after the passing of my mother here in California, all this the subject of a blog post from September 27, 2013 that I am proud continues to receive a lot of readers. The two of us are not strangers to the mysterious energy of sadness.
Our July 8th program will be a portrait evening of three string quartets by Gabriela Ortiz, Aroma Foliado, Baalkah and Altar de muertos. I am thrilled to close the gap that still rarely, if ever, affords the public the opportunity to enjoy an entire evening of music by a woman. An old fashioned evening of the string quartets of Beethoven or Bartok wouldn’t be news, but this concert still is breaking ground in 2015. And I look forward to rereading that previous sentence when I’m 80, with the hope that the systems of classical music finally catch up with 21st century common sense.
Focusing music on the cosmic world of the Maya or the Day of the Dead in Mexico comes naturally to a composer from the land of Nezahualcoyotl. And as you experience Gabriela speaking in her own musical voice, a Llorona lament from deep inside the soul of Mexico, her voice can become your voice, which is still a relatively new but incredibly rewarding experience for a listener. Because we benefit from cultural responses to death that might help us construct a path to acceptance in life, comforting us before it’s finally our turn to pack our bags. I’m afraid Gabriela’s responses could not be found in the Latin Mass of the Spanish Conquistadors. Hard as they tried, the spirit of the indigenous people, the Aztecs, Mayas, Incas, Olmecs, Toltecs, and countless other nations, were never completely destroyed by the invading Castilians. Those ancient civilizations nonetheless endured, now offering perhaps even the cynic with a definition of the mysterious. Reoriented through Gabriela’s music on this concert, we aren’t in Europe anymore, Toto.
Baalkah is a tour-de-force for soprano, written for Dawn Upshaw and the Kronos Quartet, who also commissioned Altar de muertos. Israeli soprano Ayana Haviv is our soloist, having sung Baalkah to great acclaim a few years ago, she also is part of the ensemble of four sopranos on our Latin Grammy nominated performance of Gabriela’s Elegia.
All good stories need a satisfying conclusion. And so we thought we would make a little history for the final concert of the 2015 Los Angeles International New Music Festival. Start rethinking the issue of age and creativity.
For our Wednesday July 15th finale, we will be performing an entire concert of the late works of Elliott Carter. Talk about an embarassing reality for American music. On the one hand I’m honored to claim West Coast premiere status for every Carter work on our last concert. On the other hand, you just aren’t as hip as you think you are as a musical culture if you ignore the achievement of late Carter. But Vienna didn’t care about late Beethoven either! So I keep getting up every morning and keep going to work.
Because – spoiler alert – all the pieces on this final concert July 15th were composed by Elliott between the years of 100 and 103. We’ve never encountered this before! Jan and I last visited him a few months before he passed away. He was more lucid than we were. Move over, way over, Giuseppe Verdi and Falstaff!
Talk about a glaring programmatic gap I am happy to fill with music essential to be experienced in performance, a body of music I plan to spend the rest of my career returning to over and over again. This all Carter concert will consist of five major West Coast premieres, Tinntabulation, A Sunbeam’s Architecture, The American Sublime, What Are Years and, an appropriate finale for a centenarian evening of premieres, On Conversing With Paradise. The various dedicatees include Daniel Barenboim, James Levine, Pierre Laurent Aimard, and Oliver Knussen, with Pierre Boulez having conducted the world premiere of What Are Years. Most composers would be thrilled to count one of these artists as advocates, let alone the entire cast of characters.
Because Carter naysayer critics have a point, albeit to me from a sadly narrow perspective. Elliott may well represent the End of Something. A good definition of melodramatic would be to posit that Carter represents the end of music as you know it, that the only way forward is a radical simplicity, take it or leave it. Those ideas are for other blogs. But his longevity is now historical fact and, for me, he looms as a figure of wisdom asking us serious questions that we would do well to consider.
And to help us all ask these questions, Carter at the end of his life turned to a series of song cycles with poetry by poets he personally knew. E.E. Cummings, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound. No surprise, as Elliott’s apartment in Greenwich Village was down the street from eighteen miles of books, the Union Square stalwart Strand Bookstore.
One needs a stellar assembly of singers to consider performing this all Carter program. I am confident our soloists can create this highpoint for you. For any of you fortunate enough to have heard Jon Lee Keenan as The Evangelist in Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at Walt Disney Concert Hall with the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Grant Gershon, you already know that his crisp and clear sound makes him an ideal tenor for new music. Jon has also been a stunning Britten tenor for us this year in various community concerts around Los Angeles and in the schools.
Baritone Abdiel Gonzalez will be singing both The American Sublime, scored for a large contingent of winds, percussion and piano and Carter’s last cycle from 2011 written at the age of 103, and On Conversing With Paradise, which Southwest included in its Ascending Dragon Festival for both its Asian and U.S. premieres in Hanoi and Los Angeles in 2010. Abdiel captivates audiences, as he’s demonstrated at our concerts since 2012 with music by Idina Izarra of Venezuela, Alberto Ginastera of Argentina and Los Angeles icon Arnold Schoenberg’s love-crazy Petrarch sonnet heard inside the Venetian sound world of his 1920s era Serenade.
Carter’s late music strikes me like a musical oracle, the complicated rhythms that grabbed the attention of the Grateful Dead in the 1960s and 70s (Phil Lesh is a huge fan of Carter’s music and has funded numerous projects under the radar) have become easier to grasp (3/4 and 4/4 meters with whole, half, quarter notes are about it for complexity, with triplets, quin and septuplets thrown in for both small and large scale reasons, but these pieces are almost sight readable for professional musicians) allowing for a direct expression that sums up a vast and turbulent time period. The instruments usually support the voice with old fashioned pitch doubling. Getting older is good!
And so I found the expression of joy that ends What Are Years to be transformative. Carter was well aware that the premiere would be conducted in Aldeburgh by his close friend, Pierre Boulez. One feels these two giants are in a diaolgue in this piece, for there is no getting around their lasting impact on serious music for all younger generations. With each musical gesture from Carter you can hear a shorthand for Boulez’s musicianship. A Modernist Nimrod, if you will, a conversation between two friends sharing life, I’ve nicknamed this piece E.C. to P.B.
And so I am delighted that my long time friend, soprano Elissa Jonhston, is singing the West Coast premiere of What Are Years. We’ve worked together on more projects than I can remember, from tours to Cambodia and Vietnam to recording projects with Gabriela Ortiz and world premieres and other firsts. She has the perfect voice for this valedictory piece ending in radiant Carterian joy.
These five late Carter West Coast premieres will provide an important capstone to the 2015 Los Angeles International New Music Festival. And thinking of Elliott naturally makes me confront that odd human condition, grief. I miss him – Jan and I have lost our musical grandfather. Grief creates an odd but potentially positive energy. I’ve never understood what the right thing to do is when ambushed by it’s power – cancel a concert because of the recent passing of a family member or friend, or move forward and walk through the multitude of images and memories that being on the vulnerable stage of performance takes as a given? Carter’s only opera asks us a Big Question: What’s Next?
This series is one way for me to begin to answer that question. I hope to see you at the concerts!
Organizations, projects, festivals, and important concerts don’t fall fully formed from the sky. Our festival is guided by a tremendous Board of Directors, headed by the well known art curator, Jay Belloli, who currently has exhibitions at LAX and in India, with a three-year traveling show of NASA space photography. And Jay loves music, not always the case with people in the visual arts. He’s worked with Rauschenberg, Ruscha, Burden, an entire list of the late 20th century. Many thanks for his huge support and encouragement committing our organization to new work, allowing us to concentrate on advancing the international ties inherent in our successes over the years in Cambodia, Vietnam and Mexico. Hence our 2015 festival!
And I need to point out the excitement and pride we all feel at Southwest for the release this week of The Woman in Gold with Dame Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds and Katie Holmes. The story of the long legal odyssey of restitution of paintings by Gustav Klimt to Maria Altmann was a story Jan and I lived in real time with our loyal and generous Board member Randy Schoenberg. Their support is wide and deep for our concerts and part of our organizational family. His grandfather must be kvelling in Heaven!
Jan and I are heading to Mexico City next week, honored to be lecturing at UNAM, and able to put all the finishing touches on the programs in direct conversation with our friends in the Tambuco Ensemble. So check Facebook and my blog for updates. Full concert details will be announced in early May.
We’ve reached a point in the West where we understand that the cultures of the world are all around us and here to stay. But there remains a tendency, perhaps an unexpressed suspicion, to experience cultures other than the traditional Western geopolitical countries as still an exotic touch, a spice rather than a cuisine. And so one thing my programs have as a background goal is to provide these ‘other’ cultures the opportunity to speak in the first person. I’ve let audiences experience Vietnamese composers Vu Nhat Tan, Ton That Tiet and Nguyen Thien Dao and their reaction to the Vietnam War, not ours. By recording all of the chamber music of Carlos Chavez, we established over time a basic repertory that speaks for Mexico. Perhaps it’s obvious, but my ideas are based on the common sense of cultural respect and dignity.
Ricardo Gallardo told me years ago that my ensemble in Los Angeles was positioned to be an important mirror to Central and South America. Our recording projects of all the chamber works of Carlos Chavez and the Encounters of William Kraft established a firm basis for these next steps. And I’ve dreamt of Asia every time I went to the beach here in Los Angeles. I use to wonder as a child “If I got in a boat, what would I find on the other side?” As an adult, I’ve had a chance to see for myself and want to share those ideas with you through music.
You have to travel to come home. So we’re off to Mexico City to return to Los Angeles for the next Los Angeles International New Music Festival, with five concerts July 7 through July 15 at REDCAT Theater in Walt Disney Concert Hall. See you in July!
Best, best, best,
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