December, 2008

Bringing Down The House

Walt Disney Concert Hall played host for the first time to South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir on December 22nd and what occurred during their concert was an inexplicable kind of magic.  Perhaps the holiday spirit contributed to it or the architecture of Disney Hall, but the a cappella group that has stunned audiences worldwide was in inspiring form on Tuesday.  The theme of the evening was an African spiritual journey, which included songs in Zulu, a beautiful rendition of “This Little Light of Mine”, and an awe-inspiring “Amazing Grace” garnering a mid-concert standing ovation.

The Choir is so well choreographed that you forget the majority of their songs are sung without instruments save a couple of drums.  Their colorful, traditional costume and whimsical dance routines make you forget that you are in the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  With a roster of the most renowned classical musicians from around the world, I am sure that these were the first rappers to grace their stage.  One highlight of the concert happened when a table with plates, glasses, and silverware became a percussive instrument for three men.  The rest of the men danced and sang to the beat creating an intricate rhythm and allowing us a choreographed glimpse into the fun they must have on tour.

While the focus is the group as a whole, each member is able to stand out individually – and they do.  Where one breaks from the group to play the guitar in the background, the other moves to the front to do continual high kicks.  Most impressive, though, are the individual voices singled out in each song.  Together they create a cohesive whole, but individually they represent an impressively wide vocal range.  They each sing with their own level of abandon and explosive energy.

Just following their third standing ovation, they sang Christmas carols in honor of the season.  Their versions of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night” introduced a truly magical spirit to the songs we know and love.  Everyone was on their feet, clapping along to the rhythm of the season.

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The Sweet Nut

The press releases screamed, “Los Angeles Ballet Soars into 3rd Season with World-Class Production of ‘The Nutcracker.’” Soars. World-Class. I forgave the publicist’s hyperbole.

Having seen two LAB dance programs during the fledgling company’s 2nd season, I expected a credible, competent, well-rehearsed performance by promising young dancers, enhanced by the presence of a few Guest Artists.

Jaded and disappointed by decades of failed attempts at establishing a real ballet company in Los Angeles, nothing had prepared me for the Christmas miracle on the stage of Royce Hall Sunday night.

It’s difficult to select outstanding elements from so uniformly excellent a production. First and foremost, however, is this company’s corps de ballet. Guest artists and flashy soloists are available to any company with the shekels to hire them. What makes or breaks a ballet company is the presence or lack of the group precision and perfection on display in LAB’s Dance of the Snowflakes. Just as I was getting all teary-eyed with joy, the five-year-old on her mom’s lap behind me whispered, “Mommy, I love this!”

Even more extraordinary is the fact that ballet mistress Colleen Neary was rehearsing two new dancers into this very piece fifteen minutes before curtain. Executive Director Julie Whittaker tells me that, after the matinee, one of the corps was taken seriously ill and rushed to the hospital, while a second dancer nursed a badly swollen ankle.

Among a plethora of highlights: Prodigy ballerina Lilit Hogtanian, as Clara, whose every gesture is a poem. At sixteen, she exhibits an arresting Star Quality. One can’t begin to guess what she will be in ten years.

Melissa Barak performs the role of Marie (Sugarplum Fairy in other productions) with cool elegance and precision, marvelous balance and clarity of line. Her partner, Peter Snow, dazzles with gorgeous jetees, pirouettes, and lifts, after an off-center landing of a difficult aerial turn early in Act 2.

Guest artist Sergey Kheylik astonishes with impossible leaps and turns. Kheylik and company dancers Li Chen and Tian Tan elicit startled gasps and prolonged cheering in the Act 2 Russian Dance.

The exquisite Corinna Gill, ably partnered by new LAB soloist Drew Grant, offers a molten, sinuous Arabian Dance.  Her breathtaking extensions and lyrical ports des bras sear every phrase into memory. Soaring and world-class, indeed.

Kudos to Jonathan Sharp as Drosselmeyer, Craig Hall and Annia Hildalgo as Harlequin and Columbine Dolls, Andrew Brader as the Mouse King, and to the well-rehearsed children’s corps.

The Colleen Neary-Thordal Christensen choreography brings a theatrical freshness to the oft-told story of a little girl who dreams that her Christmas toys come alive. Their Christmas Party scene opening the ballet, for example, is the most engrossing and fun among dozens of ‘Nutcrackers’ I’ve seen during my long life.

A show curtain painted in colorful Mexican style with two angels (City of the Angels – get it?) greets the audience, rising to reveal lovely storybook sets by LA designer Catherine Kanner. Opulent costumes by Danish designer Mikael Melbye reinforce the fantasy.

My companion of the evening – a classical ballet-hater, whose sole enticement for agreeing to be dragged to this performance was the prospect of ogling exceptionally fit young women cavorting in revealing costumes – turned to me at intermission to say, “I’m beyond impressed – I’m entertained.”

LA area residents have three more chances to enjoy this magical production, at Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on Dec. 27 at 2 and 7:30, and Dec. 28 at 2.

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Reconstructing the Classics

The Getty Villa’s classically inspired architecture has always set the perfect stage to view art of the antiquities by enabling the illusion of authentic perspective.   However, the three current exhibits: Reconstructing Identity: The Statue of a God from Dresden, The Getty Commodus: Roman Portraits and Modern Copies and Fragment to Vase: Approaches to Ceramic Restoration do more than allow classical art enthusiasts a place to view their objects of desire; they allow a behind-the-scenes peek at the challenges of object collection and conservation.

Reconstructing Identity traces the history of a monumental statue that has worn many hats, or more accurately, many heads.  Since his discovery in Italy in the seventeenth century, the statue has posed as Alexander the Great, Bacchus the god of wine, and the youth Antinous. The exhibit tells the tale of this mystery man and how he ended up in a villa overlooking the Pacific Ocean by the examining the singular sculptural figure and exploring his morphic identity through the different heads he has donned.

The Getty Commodus, inspired by the Getty’s acquisition of the marble bust of Commodus (A.D. 161-192) showcases a number of busts with similar characteristics to the ancient Getty Commodus thereby creating a conversation of influence between the pieces.  By looking at Commodus and its figural descendents, the exhibit serves to illuminate the history of bust-sculpture as well as shed some light on the replication of the portrait bust into the Renaissance.

Fragment to Vase explains the restoration process of classical ceramic art pieces.  As someone who can scarcely amble through her friends’ tiny post-grad apartments without knocking over a 29-dollar vase from West Elm, I have always been fascinated by thousand-year-old ceramic vases that remain fully intact.  It seems impossible that one could remain intact through ages traveling through continents, natural disasters and dish-throwing break-ups.  Fragment to Vase exposes the truth that most vases do require restoration.  The exhibit shows a number of fully restored classical vases and also reveals the process of restoration.  Partially restored vases allow viewers to take a peek at the reconstructed cracks on the inside of the vases and learn about the methods restorers rely on to ensure the original integrity of the vase is honored.

The Getty Villa stays true to its mission of education as these three exhibitions dedicate as much attention to the illumination of these art-historical tales as they do the displays the artworks themselves. Michael Brand, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, best explains the unique nature of these exhibits “These exhibitions provide an opportunity for the public to see that the works of art they view in museums do not necessarily have static lives.  Bringing these works to life is an exciting process that often involves determination, collaboration, and detective work.”

Where: Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, CA

When: December 18, 2008 to June 1, 2009

Info: www.Getty.edu 

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The Gold Standard

The Kirov Ballet and Orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre will be at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion December 17-20 with six performances of The Nutcracker.  If you were not able to see their stunning versions of Don Quixote and Giselle earlier this year at The Orange County Performing Arts Center, this is the perfect opportunity to catch this world-renowned ballet company right in downtown LA.  Evgenia Obraztsova, Irina Golub, and Ekaterina Osmolkina will dance the principal role of Masha. Vladimir Shkylarov, Alexander Sergeev, and Igor Kolb will dance the role of the Nutcracker Prince.  Performing Vasily Vainonen’s choreography from 1934, their version of The Nutcracker has been pleasing audiences for decades.

When: December 17-20

Where: The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 North Grand Avenue

Tickets: Ticketmaster or 213-365-3500, $30-$120

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Concerts in the Studio

A polyglot murmuring spilled out into the parking lot through the warehouse doors, as dozens of new arrivals locked their cars and hurried into the vast atelier studio of artist Alexey Steele to claim chairs for the concert last Monday night, December 8.

It has been one year since this unique experiment was launched, and from that auspicious birth, the monthly ‘underground’ concerts in this unlikely venue in Carson have grown in size and scope.  On this first anniversary, more than two hundred people joined 13 international musicians among dozens of Steele’s monumental canvases, to share food, wine, vodka – and classical music.

Concert coordinator and co-founder of the series, Maksim Velichkin assembled an eclectic buffet of works by Wagner, Bach, Kodaly, Ginastera, and others – played by an international array of performers.

A highlight of the concert was the world-class performance of the Allegro from Schubert’s String Trio #1, and 2 movements from Haydn’s String Trio, opus 53, played by violinist David Chernyavsky, cellist Serge Oskotsky, and violist Carrie Dennis, all of the LA Phil.

Newest LA arrival, Dennis served as Assistant Principal Viola with the Philadelphia Orchestra from 2002 until 2006, when she was named Principal Viola of the Berlin Philharmonic.  Three months ago, began her residency in Los Angeles as the new Principal Viola of the LA Phil.  An active chamber musician and soloist, Dennis has been featured in Music from Marlboro, Tanglewood, and other chamber music festivals around the world.

The monthly Music at the Atelier concerts will continue to offer pot-luck food and drink, camaraderie and conversation in many languages, and spectacular playing from the parade of guest artists who visit the studio.  It’s some of the finest chamber music available in Southern California, in a casual setting, at the price of a movie.

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Makoto’s Marimba

Makoto Nakura, the greatest Japanese import since sushi, will give Los Angeles a thrilling marimba performance this weekend with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  He is playing Strauss’ Serenade for Winds, Hadyn’s Symphony No. 31 in D Major, and a new piece by the Chamber Orchestra’s former resident composer Pierre Jalbert called Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra.  The marimba is a percussive instrument with wooden keys, arranged similarly to a piano, which are struck by mallets to produce sound.  To watch a master, like Nakura, play with the Chamber Orchestra will be a dynamic and exciting merging of east and west in music.

When:  Saturday December 13, 8:00pm at Alex Theatre in Glendale; Sunday December 14, 7:00pm Royce Hall at UCLA

Tickets: www.laco.org or 213 622 7001 (ext. 215); prices range from $18 – $95

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Monday Night Out

For a lively Monday night treat, check out the Monday Evening Concert Series.  The series premieres Monday, December 8 at Zipper Hall with Avant-Garde Through the Ages.  The Monday Evening Concert series describes this night:

The season explodes open with Michael Maierhof’s visionary trio, a work which provoked one critic to write, “After Sugar 1, Xenakis will sound like Mozart.” In a program jumping backward and forward through eight centuries, late Medieval songs and a Baroque masterpiece converse with today’s new music, as M.E.C. introduces Los Angeles to accordion wizard Teodoro Anzellotti and the concentrated musical poetry of emerging Japanese composer Keiko Harada.

For more Information: www.mondayeveningconcerts.org or call M.E.C. at (310)836-6632

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A New Reason to Love Downtown LA

The Grammy Museum, although it may conjure images of Britney Spears and J.Lo, presents a history of music that is not just a glorified look at pop music over the last fifty years.  The museum does showcase Spears, Tina Turner’s legs, and Madonna’s small suitcase of Grammy achievements, but only to complement the detailed overview of music in society, the technological advancements of recorded sound, the history of musical genres, and of course a history of the Grammys.  Located on the L.A. Live campus, the museum will attempt to create a popular hub of music and culture in downtown LA.

Opening to the public on December 6th, the multi-level, interactive museum features a 200-seat theater, called the Grammy Sound Stage, and small “studio” spaces that explain the processes of mixing, tracking, remixing, singing on a track, mastering and creating beats.  The space’s dedication to multimedia is incredible as it allows guests to discover the history of music through many different lenses.  You can explore musical genres on touch-screen tables while listening to iconic songs and reading about any given genre’s history.  On one wall, you can discover music geographically on the interactive map of the United States or you can learn about music through the ages on another wall organized by decades.

The museum will open with an exhibit entitled Songs of Conscience, Sounds of Freedom. It covers the intertwined history of music and politics in the United States, starting with the significance of Yankee Doodle in 1775.  The capstone of the entire experience is the finale—a 17-minute film that takes you behind the scenes at the Grammys.  It chronicles the meetings, stage production and rehearsals.  It focuses on Beyonce and Tina Turner’s performance at this year’s Grammys.  The video succeeds in making its viewers feel like insiders.  Its success is largely helped by the museum’s location; as you leave the museum you immediately see the Staples Center, which is where all that magic actually happened.

The museum’s first major event will be on January 15th and will feature a performance by Brian Wilson followed by a question and answer session.  Of all the fascinating, interactive and educational rooms, videos, touch-screen tables and maps, the museum stays true to its mission—not its name.  The history and memorabilia they present is not exclusive to Grammy winners.  On the contrary, it is a sweeping and engaging look through the history of what we love and are most curious about in music.

 

Museum opens December 6, 2008

More Information: www.grammymuseum.org

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