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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...]

The Russian Evolution

S. Rachmaninoff, P.Tchaikovsky, A. Arensky, D.Shostakovich, S.Taneyev, Le Salon de Musiques January 8, 2017— Despite its often dark past, the "Russian Bear" has blessed our eyes and ears with great beauty, from the architecture of St. Petersburg palaces, onion domes on Orthodox churches, painted religious icons and the contents of the Hermitage Museum to Faberge's bejeweled Easter eggs and the enduring novels of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Pushkin. Following his 1837 death, it was Pushkin's tales that provided inspiration for a century of artists who created perhaps his country's greatest gift to the world--music. A partial list of notable composers who were born or writing in 19th century Russia includes Glinka, … [Read more...]

Romantic Respite

R.Strauss, X.Schrwenka, R.Schumann, Le Salon de Musiques November 6, 2016— One hour of daylight was taken from us on November 6th in the annual turning back of clocks.  Only two days later, the presidential election would rob almost exactly half the country of the candidate they hoped would win. Depending on one's political persuasion, it would be either the best or worst day in a long, long time. But on Sunday, the 6th, the outcome could only be guessed at, prayed for or feared. One thing, however, was certain: the entire populace, left or right or center, had definitely experienced more than enough pundit-pontificating, TV commercials, flyers in mailboxes, exhorting robocalls, tense arguments and an endless barrage … [Read more...]

Crypto Nazi vs Queer

Best of Enemies, (2015), Directed by Morgan Neville Robert Gordo, Magnolia Pictures — One of the most consequential U.S. elections is only days away. Finally. The past eighteen months have seen constant bickering and insults from the two front-runners, "oppo research" and dirty tricks orchestrated by their campaign teams and an endless stream of threats, leaks, ugly invective and sexual allegations. Instead of a polite exchange of ideas and policies, non-stop "mud-slinging" has clogged cable news networks; as voting day draws near, only the candidates' foibles and flaws are highlighted. People around the world remain perplexed by America's staggering expenditure in electing a president—a billion dollars, per race, … [Read more...]

The Body at the Center

Christian Rizzo / ICI—CCN MONTPELLIER: d’après une histoire vraie — September 15th was the first of four nights of a ballet featuring eight male dancers accompanied solely by two drummers for a 70 minute performance.  Curiosity about how this melange of 16 bare feet and two piles of percussion instruments could entertain an audience for over an hour is what drew some of us to REDCAT. We were not disappointed after the house lights went down and were soon transfixed by what we saw and heard. When the lights came back up, the two-minute standing ovation for the performers was enthusiastic and well-deserved. The choreographer, director and designer of the production is Christian Rizzo, a man with a truly … [Read more...]

Heavy Traffic on The Royal Road

The Royal Road (2016), Written and Directed by Jeni Olson, Wolf Video — The Royal Road is a curious sort of documentary by filmmaker Jenni Olson.  She gives us a lot to see and think about--perhaps two or three elements too many—in just over an hour. Her smart art film is a loving look at San Francisco and Los Angeles with a smattering of U.S. and California history. There are musings about remembered times and places, unrequited romances, a meditation on nostalgia and the internal monologues of a modern Lesbian woman longing for love. Olson is the writer, producer and director as well as voice-over narrator of this ambitious work. But equal credit should be given to her cinematographer, Sophie … [Read more...]

Dancing with Kafka

Der Bau - Isabelle Schad | Laurent Goldring from Théâtre Auditorium Poitiers — The exceptional is what one comes to expect from the programing at REDCAT. Some original presentations during a recent fortnight have included TeatroCinema's ingeniously staged Historia de Amor and an evening of often bleak, always beautiful films by the late director Chantal Akerman. April 17th proved again the daring temperament with a performance by Berlin based choreographer Isabelle Schad and French artist Laurent Goldring. Isabelle Schad has re-imagined an unfinished novella by Franz Kafka, entitled Der Bau (The Burrow). When the lights came up, the only things visible on stage were four or five bunched-up pieces … [Read more...]

Earwitness

March 10th saw REDCAT present another innovative, mixed-media performance by the Canadian artist Eve Egoyan. The evening featured three ingenious, interactive videos and four contemporary piano pieces entitled Earwitness "an umbrella name for projects conceived by Eve Egoyan that explore a hybrid art form, where sound and visual elements become equal creative partners". The concert was an exploration into auditory insight and visual complexities. A serious and prolific pianist, Egoyan commissioned all four of the selections heard at REDCAT. Ten of her eleven released CDs contain modern music written by an international array of living composers. Her remaining disc is devoted to Erik Satie's century-old miniatures , predecessors … [Read more...]

Synesthesia

CITY OF LIGHT: MESSIAEN WITH THE ST. LOUIS SYMPHONY, LA Phil GreenUmbrella, Feb. 2, 2016 — The Los Angeles Philharmonic is honoring French composers this Spring in a "City of Light" concert series. In a related Green Umbrella presentation on February 2nd, a sold-out, Disney Hall audience was mesmerized by a multi-media performance of Olivier Messiaen's ethereal music. The late composer's 90-minute "Des Canyons aux Etoiles" (From the Canyons to the Stars) was played with admirable clarity by visiting members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, guided by its energetic conductor, David Robertson. Enhancing the modern, near-mystical score was a visual celebration of the music--projected photos, videos and special lighting … [Read more...]

Refugee Redux

Neelamjit Dhillon Quartet & Isaura String Quartet: Komagata Maru, REDCAT, Nov.24th The stories of people migrating from place to place on our planet are as old as the human race. Through ancient history, bible tales, perhaps immigrant narratives of our own families, we know that individuals, tribes, even entire populations of towns and countries can move--or be moved—to new, faraway places. Reasons for packing up and leaving are diverse: wars, weather, a need for food and water, religious beliefs, better-paying jobs, et al. Sadly, fear or hatred of The Other—humankind's ingrained "us versus them" mentality—has often complicated and at times thwarted migrations. This is not new. Today, refugee camps around the world are filled with … [Read more...]

Respirator

Mozart and Mendelssohn's Grand Tour, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Royce Hall, May 2015 — "The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1968", as their program states, "as an artistic outlet for the recording industry's most gifted musicians". Its first concert took place the following year led by the group's original music director, Sir Neville Marriner. For the past 18 seasons the ensemble has been under the baton of the energetic conductor and pianist Jeffrey Kahane. A performance on May 17th--the final offering in L.A.C.O.'s current season--illustrated that Kahane's players are some of the best, conservatory-trained "studio musicians" available. The concert was held at UCLA's Royce Hall. L.A.C.O.'s "Sound Investment" donors … [Read more...]

A Score for Steamboat Bill

TCM's Classic Film Festival, History According to Hollywood, March 2015 Hollywood hosted the 6th annual TCM Classic Film Festival during the last week of March and fans could not have been happier. Nearly one hundred of the greatest movies ever made were screened at three original "cinema palaces": The Chinese and Egyptian Theatres, both built by flamboyant showman Sid Grauman in the 1920's; and the El Capitan, gorgeously restored over the last two decades by the Walt Disney Company. With multiple screenings in the same programming blocks, there was no way any patron could see more than a handful of the scheduled movies. This was my own inaugural season attending a TCM Fest, despite being a Hollywood native, a life-time worker in "the … [Read more...]

Cinema Outre

The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), A Film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Newly Restored, Cinefamily, 2015 —   Michael Powell, in 1939, after a decade spent writing, editing and learning everything cinematic, teamed with Hungarian writer Emeric Pressburger  in what would become surely the most inventive, original pairing of their time. For the next two decades, the partners co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed unique, visually striking films including The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death and Peeping Tom. However, the collaboration considered by some critics to be their masterpiece was The Tales of Hoffmann. This dreamlike, Technicolor film of an operetta by … [Read more...]

The Art of Song

SCHUBERT & SCHUBERTIADES, Le Salon de Musiques, February 8, 2015  In only 16 years of actual composing, Franz Schubert created more than a thousand works of music. It's an astonishing feat and his output has continued to influence every generation of musicians that followed him. Yet, despite this amazing achievement, Schubert's life in his home town played out as a woeful tune, full of melancholy and misery. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and other composers enjoyed the patronage of aristocrats and royalty in their adopted city of Vienna. Schubert, who was born there in 1797, could only rely on the support of his friends; when money was scarce, they paid for his wine and gave him a few florins to buy tobacco for his pipe. His mother … [Read more...]

Coates …Of Many Colors

Gloria Coates: Portrait Concert, REDCAT, Nov.13, 2014— (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times) Mid-way through its fall season, REDCAT once again stepped out of the box with the presentation  "Gloria Coates: Portrait Concert". The composer, whose output is considered to follow in the footsteps of New Music pioneers the likes of Stockhausen, Ives and Xenakis, was in attendance and roundly applauded at her brief bow, post-performance. Three of her works were promised: Night Music and Symphony # 10, both written in 1992, and the world premiere of an opera called Stolen Identity, composed in 2010-11. REDCAT described Gloria Coates as "a prodigious composer of orchestral and chamber works since the 1960's" who is "acclaimed for uncanny music that is … [Read more...]

English Impressions

John Ireland, Frank Bridge and Howard Hanson, Le Salon de Musiques, October 12, 2014 — A jewel in the crown of Los Angeles culture has returned for its fifth season, Le Salon de Musiques - Masters Rediscovered, continues its series of chamber music concerts devoted primarily to late 19th and early 20th century compositions at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion's Fifth Floor. The opening recital, played on October 12th, carries on Le Salon's tradition of presenting obscure but always insightful treasures from the post-Romantic era. All of the pieces--two from British composers John Ireland and Frank Bridge, one by an American, Howard Hanson—deserve a wider audience and greater recognition. Ireland (1879-1962) and Bridge (1879-1941) were … [Read more...]

Last Dance: Tanaquil Le Clercq

Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq (2013), directed by Nancy Buirski — For balletomanes everywhere and people fond of late-1940's British movies; for Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale readers and "glorious Technicolor" aficionados; for girls and boys who hope to dance on stage at Covent Garden or Lincoln Center when they grow up; for members of Moira Shearer and Anton Walbrook fan clubs; for those who appreciate Brian Easdale film scores and Jack Cardiff cinematography; for hopeless romantics who become emotionally involved in rich, overripe stories of doomed love; for Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola, who dusted off the overlooked work of fellow film director Michael Powell, late in his life, and helped to restore his most … [Read more...]

Russian Soul

Medtner, Rachmaninoff and Arensky, Le Salon de Musiques, February 9th 2014 — Moves Pogossian, Mona Golabek, John Walz, Edith Orloff The latest presentation from Le Salon de Musiques—the fifth in its season of nine chamber music concerts—took place on February 9th. The setting, overlooking downtown Los Angeles, was an intimate corner of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion’s fifth floor.  The program featured music by Russian composers—Sergei Rachmaninoff, Anton Arensky and Nikolai  Medtner—all born between 1861 and 1880 and each well-acquainted with the other two.  In his introduction, Le Salon’s artistic director Francois Chouchan said, “Tonight, when you listen to this music, I hope you will feel the Russian soul”. Chouchan clearly … [Read more...]

Hallucinations…and Hymns

Hallucination, A Tribute to Mary Bauermeister, Jacaranda, January 25, 2014 — Jacaranda, the concert series in Santa Monica now in its 10th season, gave listeners two solemn, stunning performances on January 25th. With important compositions by Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen —two originators of “electronic music”—the evening offered the possibility of explosive, sonic fireworks. But candlelight in a hushed room might have better suited the reverential tone of this music, despite its many unusual and fervent sounds. It was fitting that Jacaranda’s Halluncination take place in the modern, airy sanctuary of Santa Monica’s First Presbyterian Church. Patrick Scott, the Artistic Director of Jacaranda, writes copious, … [Read more...]

Exit/Exist

Gregory Maqoma/Vuyani Dance Theatre, REDCAT November 7-10, 2013 — The theatre’s house lights fade to black and audience chatter quickly subsides. Music begins—a trance beat, the brisk playing of a guitar and a quiet electronic pulse; the sound is Indian, African and middle-eastern in flavor.  Small spotlights direct our eyes downstage, center, where a black man wearing a gold sharkskin suit stands with his back to us. He is barefoot. In a moment, he begins to move in sync with the music and his joyous energy soon makes us believe he will never stop moving. The dancer is Gregory Maqoma and he is astonishing. In the first several minutes of his performance piece, Exit/Exist, we never really see his face. His movements begin slowly … [Read more...]

Mr. B …and the A.B.T.

ABT, Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, Los Angeles, July 11-14, 2013 Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times The American Ballet Theatre, based in New York City, mounts an eight-week season of dance performances each spring at Lincoln Center. The balance of the company’s year is largely spent touring the U.S. and the world.  Los Angeles was one of their stop-overs recently—July 11-14, 2013, at the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center. Four of ABT’s five performances featured one of the very first ballets—“Le Corsaire." This 3-act extravaganza is replete with pirates and slave girls, poisoned roses, Turkish pashas, music by Adolphe Adam, Leo Delibes and three more composers and a ship that sinks in a violent … [Read more...]

An Intimate Arrangement

Le Salon de Musiques: Recital, Camillo Schumann, Fredrick Delius, Frederic Chopin, April 14  Andrew Shulman - Cello, Steven Vanhauwaert - Piano — A great cultural treasure in Los Angeles is hidden in plain sight, high up on the Fifth Floor of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Attendees at a recent performance entered through large doors into an intimate partitioned area of the grand ballroom. A discreet sign read: Le Salon de Musiques. Inside, about 150 people greeted old friends and made new acquaintances. A grand piano, bench and a single chair were situated near the windows. Surrounding this corner was a half-circle of chairs for audience members, some of whom read glossy program notes describing the unique nature the ensuing recital. … [Read more...]