March, 2008

Great Lake

slswans1mAmerican Ballet Theatre is recognized as one of the world’s great dance companies. Considered a living national treasure since its founding in 1940, ABT is the only major cultural institution to annually tour the United States. Probably the most representative of American ballet companies, during its nearly 70-year history the ensemble has appeared in 126 cities in 42 countries, often sponsored by the U. S. State Department.

Los Angeles audiences have enjoyed regular opportunities to see productions of the venerable institution. This Thursday through Sunday, March 27 through March 30, ABT brings 5 performances of Tchaikovsky’s immortal “Swan Lake” to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The tragic love story of the enchanted swan princess and her hapless prince has been part of the ABT repertory, in one form or another, since the 1960s. This production, staged by ABT artistic director Kevin McKenzie, had its world premiere at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center in 2000.

“ABT will present five different Swan Queens and four Prince Siegfrieds in Los Angeles,” Victor Barbee, Associate Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre, tells FineArtsLA. “The supporting casts will be equally diverse. That should keep things fresh and exciting for dancers and audiences alike.”

Opening night will feature McKenzie protégés Michele Wiles and David Hallberg as the star-crossed interspecies couple. In something of an understatement, Barbee says, ”The technical and artistic challenges for the dancers are remarkable.” Dramatically, Wiles has the arduous task of bringing to life both the fragile and tormented Swan Queen Odette, and her evil arch rival, Odile.

Wiles was promoted to Principal Ballerina less than three years ago, after a decade of careful nurturing. A statuesque 5’8” in her slippers, Wiles has always stood out. During her long, slow ascendance, critics couldn’t fail to notice her technical brilliance and classical perfection. But, in among the kudo’s were observations that the young artist lacked passion or emotional connection to the dances. All that changed when Kevin McKenzie sent Wiles and Hallberg to compete for the International Erik Bruhn Prize, given every two years. Ms. Wiles and Mr. Hallberg soared through a bravura ”Grand Pas Classique,” and Ms. Wiles won first prize.

Critics have waxed eloquent over her new dramatic maturity and depth. Wiles earns consistent praise as Odette/Odile, for both the tender lyricism and stupendous athleticism required of a prima ballerina in this quintessential Tchaikovsky “white ballet.”

For over a hundred years, companies large and small, serious and irreverent, have mounted their own versions of the work. As Victor Barbee says, ”Swan Lake is synonymous with classical ballet for very good reason: it’s magical.”

Below is a sampling of that magic, from a previous ABT production:

- Penny Orloff

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Forty Unders Ticket Giveaway: Italian Baroque

This week’s giveaway includes a generous donation from Musica Angelica for their concerts this coming weekend. On the program are:

Pergolesi Stabat Mater
Corelli Concerto grosso in F major Op. 6, No. 9
Sammartini Organ Concerto in G major Op. 9, No. 3
Geminiani Concerto Grosso in E minor, Op. 3, No. 3

You have your choice of Saturday night at Zipper Hall Downtown, or Sunday afternoon at UCLA in Westwood.

If you’re under forty and would like to attend, e-mail us your full name and which day you prefer. This post will self-destruct when all tickets are gone.

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Penny For Your Thoughts

penny_orloff_newYou may have noticed a new byline at the bottom of stories recently. Or the fact that we’re posting new content more than once a month.

Indeed FineArtsLA has a new managing editor: Penny Orloff. She will take over the everyday tasks of the site while founder Christian M. Chensvold steps back for a more general editorial role, which still includes all responsibility for the cleverness or idiocy of story headlines.

(In fact, Chensvold is busy with other webular projects, including his other site Dandyism.net and a forthcoming site devoted to the Belle Epoque. Those interested in contributing to the project are encouraged to e-mail him.)

But back to Orloff, the chosen candidate in our craigslist-wide search for a managing editor. Not only does Orloff work as a freelance writer and editor, she studied voice at Julliard and sang over 20 principal soprano roles with the New York City Opera. She also wrote the novel “Jewish Thighs on Broadway,” starred in the stage version off-Broadway, and wrote the libretto for Allen Shawn’s opera “The Ant and the Grasshopper.”

As FineArtsLA also has several other new writers currently on assignment, individual bylines will now appear at the bottom of stories.

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Queen of the Downloads

janine_jansenThough she plays 18th-century music on an 18th-century violin, Dutch violinist Janine Jansen’s trailblazing digital success sets the bar for 21st-century marketing and sales of classical music. England’s The Independent calls her “Queen of the Downloads.” She is “an artist for the iPod era,” raves Germany’s Der Spiegel.

Jansen’s 2005 Decca recording of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” broke into the U.S. top 20 of all albums sold on iTunes. Her latest album, “Bach Inventions & Partita,” topped the iTunes classical charts around the world, and achieved Gold sales within the first few weeks of its release.

Last month, the 30-year-old violinist became the first musician to record a classical piece for iTunes Live Session, usually the province of pop artists. The iTunes exclusive “Live Session: Bach” was recorded in Berlin on February 29, 2008. The site released Jansen’s digital EP last week.

Jansen finds her popularity surprising. “I don’t feel wildly popular,” she tells FineArtsLA. “But it’s an honor to feel I may be opening a door for a different and younger group of people, who may not have ever heard this music before.”

Jansen plays a marathon schedule of a hundred performances a year. Already a major star in the U.S. through her online presence, Janine Jansen finally debuted live this season with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. In her first Los Angeles Philharmonic appearances, Jansen plays the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto on Thursday and Saturday evenings, March 20 and 22, and Friday morning, March 21, at Disney Hall. Ms. Jansen also plays Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence” with members of the LA Phil on Friday evening, March 21.

Tchaikovsky composed the Violin Concerto in less than a month in 1878. He unsuccessfully offered the premiere to two famous violinists of the day, both of whom declined, declaring the work too long and too difficult. Eventually, Russian violinist Adolph Brodsky mastered the Concerto’s ferocious technical challenges and premiered it in Vienna. Jansen first prepared the work in Spring, 2000. “It was an amazing experience,” she remembers. “The music is very intense, very demanding, but so beautiful. It was so much fun.”

Jansen’s violin is the famous “Barrere” Stradivarius, created by the master in Cremona in 1727. Seven years ago, the instrument was acquired for her by the Elise Mathilde Foundation of Holland. “They knew I was looking for an instrument,” she says. “They bought it and gave it to me on extended loan, for life. From the first moment, it felt so wonderful to play it.” — Penny Orloff

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Monster’s Balls

my-34r“This company has cojones,” says Michael York. “The great thing about Long Beach Opera is that they are so alternative. And they have the sheer audacity to pull it off.”

York — the star of “Cabaret,” “Logan’s Run,” and dozens of other films — is speaking of “Frankenstein!!” coming March 14, 15 and 16 to the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. Described as a “’pan-demonium’ for chansonnier and orchestra,” the theater piece by H. K. Gruber assembles macabre nursery rhymes about John Wayne, Superman, and Dr. Frankenstein with assorted vampires and werewolves.

“Andreas Mitisek had approached me about doing the West Coast premiere of my ‘Enoch Arden’ for the first half of a double bill,” York tells FineArtsLA. ”We began looking for a piece for the second half. I was on the road with Camelot, and this CD of ‘Frankenstein!!’ arrived. It’s full of comic book characters, which Gruber sets on their head. I thought, well, why not?”

Mitisek, artistic director of Long Beach Opera, says, “The nursery rhymes are rather child-like, but nightmarish — definitely not for children.”

Of mounting Gruber’s virtually uncatagorizable theater piece, Mitisek explains, “There is a lot of craziness there – it’s a highly entertaining work. I had a vision of puppetry with an edge. Asking around I found the Rogue Artists Ensemble, right here in Long Beach. They were doing some really twisted stuff.”

The Rogue Artists Ensemble is a collective of multi-disciplinary artists, most of whom met at UC Irvine, who create Hyper-theater, an innovative hybrid of theater traditions, puppetry, mask work, dance, music, and modern technology. Through an integrative development process, emphasizing design and storytelling, the Rogues create original performance art.

“We were given a blank canvas,” says Tyler Stamets, associate artistic director of the Rogue Artists. “Andreas sent us a CD and said, ‘Imagine what you’d like to see.’”

The resulting collaboration means that this weekend, singer-actor Michael York steps into an alternate universe peopled by assorted life-sized puppets, surprises, special effects and projections.

The first half of the unique double bill presents Mr. York in his internationally lauded performance of Tennyson’s story of love and loss, “Enoch Arden,” set to music of Richard Strauss. York will sign copies of his CD following the performance. — PO

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Bard of Directors

The Globe Theater is in search of qualified members for the Board of Directors for The Los Angeles Shakepeare Company. It is also looking for volunteers and personnel.

Interested parties should send an email to:

Elisabeth Howard: lizhoward@vocalpowerinc.com
Geoffrey Forward: geofforward@shakespeare-usa.com

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Time Regained

messiaen“I am convinced that joy is beyond sorrow, beauty is beyond horror,” wrote Olivier Messiaen, one of the 20th century’s most original and influential composers, from a Nazi prison camp during WWII. At one point, delirious from starvation, Messiaen experienced an ethereally colored “aurora borealis” in the winter storm clouds. This vision led him to compose his most celebrated work, Quatour pour la Fin du Temps (Quartet for the End of Time) for himself and three fellow musicians who had managed to keep their instruments with them in the camp. The work, which explores the end of the world as prophesied in the Book of Revelations, premiered on January 15th, 1941, for hundreds of fellow prisoners and their guards.

On Sunday, March 9, the new chamber ensemble pierrot+plus plays this landmark composition at the Neighborhood Church in Pasadena, in an encore performance of last week’s critically acclaimed concert. Beginning with three love songs from Messiaen’s cycle, “Poemes pour Mi,” written by the composer for his first wife, the program also includes Leonard Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, and 7 Romances for Soprano and Piano Trio by Shostakovich.

Messiaen’s signature style synthesized a wide range of influences, from Indian ragas to ancient Greek and Hindu sources to Indonesian gamelan. An ardent ornithologist, he incorporated birdsong into much of his music. Underneath the composer’s complex, abstract music lie many personal and emotional elements, especially his intensely mystical Catholicism. Many of his works amount to personal meditations on the mysteries of his faith.

As a teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, his students included 20th century giants Boulez, Stockhausen, and Xenakis.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Messiaen’s birth. Named for their successful 2007 recording of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunnaire,” pierrot+plus plans several other tribute concerts during the 2008 centenary.

For more information, contact Gayle Blankenburg. — Penny Orloff

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