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Beyond Category

David Roussève: Halfway to Dawn, REDCAT, October 4, 2018 — Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington deserved his royal nickname. Throughout his fifty-year reign as America's premier composer/pianist/band leader and goodwill ambassador to the world, Ellington spoke and carried himself in a courtly, regal manner. He routinely used the "royal we" when acknowledging applause from his audiences--as in, "we love you madly"--and referred to himself, with amused and characteristic noblesse oblige, simply as "our pianist." He was charming and grandiose, elegant and hip. In truth, the princely Ellington's empire was actually quite small; it consisted of about fifteen loyal musicians, all with virtually lifetime jobs, and a retinue that … [Read more...]

Mud, Blood and Flood

Michael Curtiz: A Life In Film, by Alan K. Rode — Ask an average, eighteen-year old American to name a movie director and he or she might think of Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Tarantino or Tim Burton. That person's parents could name Coppola, Eastwood, Scorsese and Woody Allen. Their grandparents would surely remember Hitchcock and Welles, perhaps Ford, and Kubrick. Film school attendees are conversant with the with the work of David Lynch, Spike Lee, Peter Jackson, Kathryn Bigelow, the Coen brothers and the two Andersons, Paul Thomas and Wes. After a couple of semesters, they'll know all about Hawks and Huston, Lean and Lang, Wilder and Wyler, Fellini and Fincher, Chaplin and Cukor, Ida Lupino and Agnes Varda. There is one director, … [Read more...]

Russian Repercussions

A. Borodin, A. Glazunov, N. Rinsky-Korsakov: “Les Vendredis” String Quartets, Excerpts A. Glazunov: Elegy for Piano and Cello, OP 17 D. Shostakovitch: Piano Quintet in C Minor, OP 57 Le Salon de Musiques, April 8th, Dorothy Chandler Pavillon —                                      News cycles at the moment are rife with tales of Russian influence, wealthy oligarchs and behind-the-scene businessmen with lavish country dachas. On April 8th, Le Salon de Musiques presented a concert whose background, although of similar themes, dealt with the world of classical music (circa 1890-1943)  rather than the current international … [Read more...]

Sense and Sensuality

Extrasensory, Jacaranda February 24, 2018— Andre Jolivet, Eric Tanguy, Olivier Messiaen, Betsy Jolas and Claude Debussy Midway through its 15th season, Jacaranda presented an updated interpretation of it's two season 2007-2009 celebration of the centenary works of Olivier Messiaen and the 20th century French music informed by and that paid homage to the great composer. Entitled Extrasensory, the concert began with works by younger composers who were students of or influenced by Messiaen; it ended with a seminal work by Claude Debussy, historically the starting point for the kind of impressionistic "sound painting" heard throughout the evening. Jacaranda's creative decisions—from the choice of composers and musicians … [Read more...]

Mars, Music, Mayhem

"War of the Worlds" director Yuval Sharon, composer Annie Gosfield, LA Phil, Disney Hall —  From the late 1920s until the rise of television in the early 1950s, two relatively new inventions--motion pictures and radio-- truly united the United States. By the time of their broadest reach in the 30s and 40s, movies had an immensely popular draw; millions of people went to see them every week. For a quarter, you could enjoy two films, a newsreel, a comedy short and a bag of popcorn. Radio was an even more visceral unifier and when families owned one they felt connected to a wider world. The airwaves carried free sources of entertainment and information. Everybody listened to FDR's "fireside chats', popular music, Joe Louis … [Read more...]

Death Defying

Sur Les Traces de Dinozard, Faustin Linyekula, Choreographer, September 29, REDCAT — To open its 2017-2018 season, REDCAT offered a dramatic dance/theatre/music presentation of the 90-minute performance of Sur Les Traces de Dinozard ("In Search of Dinozard"), choreographed, directed and danced by the award-winning Congolese artist, Faustin Linyekula. His troupe of seven male singer/dancers, known as Studios Kabako, mesmerized the audience with tableaux of death and survival, music and movement, memory and hope. Born out of more than a century of colonization, corruption and killing in Central Africa, the evening's words and images will haunt anyone who experienced them. REDCAT deserves continued praise for expanding … [Read more...]

Pull It Sir

The Pulitzer At 100, Released by First Run Features, Directed by Kirk Simon — For the past century, some of the very best American artists—writers of plays, novels and poems, newspaper journalists and their editors, photographers, composers and even cartoonists--have been awarded the prestigious annual Pulitzer Prize. It is a notable achievement to win a Pulitzer, a recognized public tribute for outstanding work; judges for this honor have been criticized when finalists deemed worthy were overlooked. It's too bad that TV news readers, who usually mention a couple of each April's winners, cannot learn to correctly pronounce the name of the prize. It is not "PEW-lit-zer." The man whose very generous bequest created the award suggested … [Read more...]

Souvenirs: Lost and Found

C. Debussy, G. Faure, Z. Kodaly and C. Chaminade, Le Salon de Musique, April 2, 2017— Years ago, while employed in the television industry, we purchased thirty antiques for possible use in a production. These 18th and 19th century furniture pieces—huge armoires, elaborate partner desks, chifferobes, secretaires and vitrines—haunted a dark corner of a stage for months until they were returned to the seller, never used. But while they sat gathering dust, these former possessions of Europe's elite fascinated me. In time I thoroughly searched every nook, cranny and drawer looking for possible hidden compartments, hoping to find a lost bit of hidden history—a story by Oscar Wilde, a letter from Napoleon, a score by Mozart—tucked … [Read more...]

Pink Elephants

Circus Polka, 1942, Fifty Elephants, Balanchine and Stravinsky Team Up— "Elephants never forget", as the old saying goes. And we should never forget one of the oddest moments in the history of elephants, circuses and classical music. April 9th will mark the 75th anniversary of this unique event. In late 1941, choreographer George Balanchine was contacted in New York by John North Ringling with a unique proposition: could a "ballet" be created for his Barnum and Bailey Circus elephants? The idea was intriguing and in January, 1942, Balanchine called his friend Igor Stravinsky who was busy working in Los Angeles. The two Russians agreed on the idea and, for a healthy fee, the composer finished a piano version of what … [Read more...]

Strings on Fire

 Mark Menzies: from the islands...to fragments, REDCAT, February 6, 2017 —                                     REDCAT's February 6 concert, "Mark Menzies: from the islands...to fragments", was quirky, ambitious, lengthy and rewarding. At the outset, not all of the 240 seats were occupied; after intermission, another 50 were empty. Even for those of us who love music, two hours of solo violin/viola was daunting. But the more one focused on Mark Menzies—his calm demeanor, the skills he employed to navigate complex music, the remarkable range of sounds emanating from his instruments—the more involving the evening became. He also had a couple of … [Read more...]