September, 2007

Modesty Blaze

When Movses Pogossian said his Dilijan Chamber Music Series was “modest,” he was being just that.

His remark came during pre-concert greetings on September 15th at Zipper Hall; what followed was a concert that was intense, impassioned, and nothing to be modest about.

Dilijan is devoted to promoting the work of Armenian composers in addition to standard works from the chamber music repertoire. It opened the concert, the first of its third season, with Alexander Arutiunian’s “Suite for Clarinet, Violin and Piano” (1992), a work of tremendous beauty that drew an inspired performance from Pogossian (pictured), Diligan’s artistic director and a violin instructor at UCLA.

It was followed by the world premiere of Vache Sharafyan’s “Quintetto quasi Concerto per Pianoforte e Archi.” Sharafyan, who lives in Armenia, played the piano.

The piece opened somberly before launching surprisingly into strong waltz time. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come, as the piece felt like a pastiche of musical ideas in search of unity, with Minimalist passages juxtaposed to flights of folk-inspired rhythms.

“The musical language combines elements of baroque, romantic, eastern and contemporary music,” wrote Sharafyan in the program notes, “which is the result of the specificity of my style: a kind of language on the edge of different traditions and times.”

At times the screeching string instruments sounded like cats sliding by their claws down a mountain of slate, and thundering dissonance at one point forced a mother to comfort her frightened daughter. Like many pieces of music that seem to have no direction, the work came to an abrupt and arbitrary end.

The concert closed with Franck’s powerful and erotic “Piano Quintet in F Minor” (1879). It was attacked with such vigor that cellist Peter Stumpf snapped a string halfway through the sexually charged final movement (Franck’s wife thought the music obscene and despised it, which doesn’t say much for their conjugal relations).

Stumpf returned a few minutes later with a new string, and the quintet picked up where it had left off. But as with any interrupted romantic encounter, it couldn’t achieve the same ecstasy.

Dilijan’s next event is Sunday, October 14 at 3 pm at Zipper Hall. On the program is Mansurian, Ravel and Mendelssohn. Reserve tickets here.

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Beethoven wrote dramatic music, but he was no dramatist.

Compared to Wagner, who devoted himself solely to composing music dramas, it’s clear why “Fidelio,” which kicked off the LA Opera’s season Saturday night, is Beethoven’s lone attempt at opera: It’s not his genre.

“Fidelio” dates from the “heroic” period in Beethoven’s career, yet no amount of heroics by the Los Angeles Opera — including energetic performances by Anja Kampe as Lenore, Klaus Florian Vogt as Florestan, and James Conlon conducting the orchestra— could make “Fidelio” engaging. The plot is one-dimensional even by operatic standards, and when the curtain falls on our reunited protagonists, we feel like we never knew them.

“Fidelio” contains many passages of musical beauty. But the over-long interlude in Act II comes just when the lovers have tumbled to the floor in a fiery embrace, and kills all dramatic momentum. The final chorus is another fine example of Beethoven’s long-windedness, and in both instances it’s clear why the composer couldn’t stop himself: with either a darkened stage or a chorus to score, he’s in his element.

Director and designer Pier’ Alli employs a wonderful use of multimedia at the opening of Act II, with a riveting video journey into the prison where Florestan (whom we don’t meet until this point) lies in misery. But the screen that serves as the fourth wall should have been lifted when Florestan finishes his opening aria.

Instead it stays in place for the entire duration of the performance, a headache-inducing symbol of the distance between audience and story in this uninteresting contribution to the operatic repertoire.

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Semper Fidelio

L.A. Opera’s ‘07/’08 season opens Saturday with Beethoven’s lone opera, “Fidelio.”

Regarding the “astonishingly forceful contemporary production,” music director James Conlon offered the following statement: “Beethoven was often disillusioned with the political events of his time, and was never to realize any lasting personal relationship at all. But he poured this striving for a perfect world and a perfect union into a unique masterpiece in the form of Fidelio. Great moral themes require great moral characters. None is greater than that of the heroine, Leonore. There is no precedent to this ‘modern’ woman who rescues her noble and honest husband, unjustly imprisoned for speaking out against injustice. She exemplifies ingenuity, courage, moral determination, invention, boundless personal devotion and commitment to justice.”

Speaking of Conlon, the L.A. Opera announced Wednesday that Conlon’s contract has been extended through 2011.

“After his outstanding successes here during the 2006/07 season,” said general director Placido Domingo in a release, “his debut season as music director of the company, I am proud that LA Opera’s musical excellence will remain under the exceptional guidance of this world-class artist, and I am delighted that Mr. Conlon’s first operatic music directorship in the U.S., after his many successes in important European positions, has proven a triumph. I am honored that he will continue to play a vital role in the company’s strategy for continued growth in artistic distinction, and thrilled to continue working with him as we approach LA Opera’s 25th Anniversary Celebration.”

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