Andriessen and Pärt at Walt Disney Concert Hall

March 25, 2006

I was happy to have attended performances by the LA Phil last night of 2 works by Louis Andriessen and one by Arvo Pärt. For some strange reason, I have avoided hearing the former’s music, thinking it was too [you fill in the blank]. Like so many of us with flawed opinions, I just hadn’t heard him.

I know that the “mystical minimalist” Pärt is very in these days. I’m sorry, but I grew up on Riley and Reich too, and I’ve been through the pandiatonic improv wash (think: white keys on the piano) that his music so often is about. There is a kind of Brownian motion that hovers in his music. I have to say that I prefer the momentum driven music of Stravinsky to Pärt’s purple haze.

That being said and generalizations aside, “Tabula Rasa” was thrilling, well, especially the first movement. Two male violinists flanked the conductor. These were beautiful young Paganini-esqe violinists, marvelous artists who look like chocolate stallions, and sexy as hell. The whole movement might be described as looped-Vivaldi “Seasons” (Winter). They sold the piece and I bought it. Wow.

The Andriessen works, “De Staat” and “Racconto dall’Inferno” were both wildly thrilling, making me want to hear them again. In “De Staat” you get whole stretches of hi-contrast Terry Riley-ish orchestral rivers interrupted by (if you remember from the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” movie) the butterfly stomper, while Max Meany zips by. “Inferno” featured a vivacious vixen of a cabaret singer who grooved along with the music bodily, and modulated her voice back and forth from modernist Cathy Berberian-type delivery and Cleo Laine. The text draws from Dante’s “Inferno.” The work was demonic, hellish, and thrilling.

I understand that he studied with Luciano Berio. You really hear it, especially Berio’s “Points on a Curve to Find.” A single melody is set in motion and harmonized only in unisons and octave. Played by the whole ensemble, the effect is thrilling, like a roller coaster. And watching everyone play the same virtuosic tune is a joy. (Hats off to that electric bass player, by the way, besides his annoying habit of scrunching up his nose a lot, he played all of the same wildly difficult lines that the strings, winds and brass did. Brian Head played electric guitar. Brian is one of the most amazing chamber music guitarist I’ve ever heard. His execution is flawless.

The Andriessen demands attention. Don’t put it on as dinner music, or music to read by. The Pärt will be great for any kind of multi-tasking: vacuuming, driving, dishes, blast it through speakers in the back yard and do yard work, and you could likely have it playing in your antique shop or new age book store.

Reinbert de Leeuw conducted the concert dutifully, and with no flash or pizazz; which was fine.

An enlightening pre-game talk show was delivered by UCLA’s Robert Fink. His description of Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa” was informative to expert and novice alike. He did well to describe much, but not all the music.

My dear friends Del and Larry invited me to the concert and seem to have become huge fans of the Philharmonic (a good thing!). Del and LarryLarry accused Del of being insatiable in his interest in attending performing arts events: Del confessed that it was true. Daniel (my partner) was seeing the Ballet Biarritz at UCLA with our friend Ronnie Rubin. When Del heard this he immediately had Biarritz-envy threatening to go the next evening.

I take their Xmas portrait every year and have a huge number of pictures of them. Here’s a cute one. I had them dance, holding their arms to the side. Larry was “leading” and pulling Del here and there making both of them have amusing expressions on their faces. I didn’t get their permission to put THIS pic up so, I may replace it with the “official” portrait of the year.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa March 28, 2006 at 5:30 pm

Roger writes:

“I know that the “mystical minimalist” Pärt is very in these days. I’m sorry, but I grew up on Riley and Reich too, and I’ve been through the pandiatonic improv wash (think: white keys on the piano) that his music so often is about. There is a kind of Brownian motion that hovers in his music. I have to say that I prefer the momentum driven music of Stravinsky to Pärt’s purple haze.”

Maybe Pärt is still in vogue, but I thought he stopped being hip about five or ten years ago! He is a real composer, and is part of the repertory of orchestras around the world. I am not sure you are correctly describing his work – or Reich or Riley’s as pandiatonic – and I would not want the concept behind the music to be misunderstood by others here. What Reich, Pärt, and Riley have in common is a structural rigor that bears notice – not the pitches they choose. In the case of Pärt, his technique of composing traidic harmonies, arpeggiations, etc. is not necessarily pandiatoninc, only tonal. Personally, I have accepted these three composers as mainstream. I do not think of any of them as being in vogue, but it’s just an opinion.

Roger Bourland April 14, 2006 at 11:03 am

Rosa: I guess it depends on our definition of Nicholas Slonimsky’s word “pandiatonicism.” To me, it means using all of the notes of a mode (usually a major scale) without any harmonic obligations. Steve Reich once said: “I don’t write in keys, I write in key signatures.” But, composers say the darndest things don’t they?

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