A pair of concerts

March 26, 2007

I had the great fortune of two concerts this past weekend. On Saturday, Vox Femina/LA premiered my ALARCON MADRIGALS, BOOK 3 at the First United Methodist Church on Wilshire (LA). As I mentioned the other day, the concert was sold out. At the last minute, they opened up the good sized balcony in the back, as well as the huge choir loft that looks down to the presbytery. Every pew in the church was packed, including our pew. The only blank space was right in front of us: 2 pieces of paper holding two places for Francisco X. Alarcón, who was unable to attend. There was an excitement in the air. I looked at the program, and damn! I was the first half. I assumed that there would be some other music on the first half BESIDES me, but no. All me. Wow. As my piece was only 12 minutes or so, they added one selection from ALARCON MADRIGALS, BOOK 1, “A Neighborhood in LA”, and one from Book 2, the erotic “Both Page and Pen.” So with those two as a lead-in, Vox sang the hell out of my music. I was amazed. Oh, but did I mention Iris? Er, Dr. Levine, usually a sober, handsome, and lovable (for some), but tonight she was drop dead gorgeous. She glowed. After she acknowledged the audience, she turned to the women’s chorus, and it was as though a “smile spotlight” had been beamed on them: the whole chorus lit up, before the music even began. This is what true charisma is. And as they sang my songs–they all whizzed by so quickly–I realized how fortunate I am to have one of the best women’s chorus in the world really LIKE singing my music. It is such an honor to see a choir sing YOUR music from memory, and not just by rote, but as if they were really saying this stuff to you. Personal time is very mercurial for a composer hearing his work for the first time. Ditto the applause. It all gets smushed together, stumbles over itself. Errors (I didn’t hear any) get amplified a hundred-fold, the beautiful passages send adrenalin running through my body, I forget to breathe, and I have to remember I’m in public. The applause and comments were enthusiastic.

The second part of the concert was a 2-piano, percussion ensemble version of CARMINA BURANA, with the assembled forces of Vox Femina, GMCLA Classical Ensemble, the USC Percussion Ensemble, and the LA Children’s Chorus under Dr. Levine’s baton. One of the dangers of churches as concert halls is that they are so reverberant. This works in the chorus’s favor, but not so much the percussion instruments. I was terrified that the percussion ensemble would drown out everything, but Iris kept them on a short leash and kept the whole group in great balance. The soloists (Lori Stinson, Ralph Cato, and Brandon Brack) had entirely TOO much fun in their increasingly amusing solos. Even people who were slightly dreading hearing the piece again had to admit is was a fun performance. Three cheers to all involved, and especially to the amazingly diverse members of the audience. It was great to see so many of my old GMCLA buddies in the audience and in the chorus.

Yesterday we had a group of friends come over for snacks and wine, and a little concert by me. Many of the songs were songs I used to play on the guitar and have now appropriated for the piano, but IN the guitar style whenever possible. I hauled out my guitar and banjo to illustrate some of the finger picking patterns I was trying to emulate. I also talked a bit about each song, what it was about, and sometimes gave some insight into interesting harmonic, melodic, or rhythmic features. People seemed to enjoy the banter with the songs. The Rufus Wainwright songs I did were “Poses,” “In a Graveyard,” “Complainte de la butte,” “Maker Makes,” and “My Phone’s on Vibrate.” Beatle songs: “Blackbird,” “You’ve got to Hide your Love Away,” and “Golden Slumbers” with the John Lennon song, “My Mummy’s Dead.” I also sang Joni Mitchell’s “Case of You,” and Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow is such a long time.”

No, I’m not going on the road. No, I’m not making a CD. This is just something to share with friends. I realized how many songs from the 60s I know, and why don’t I play them for friends who might want to hear them? I used to be nervous confessing that I grew up on the Beatles and Byrds and Dylan. Nowadays, I’m not.


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