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Music & Conversations

Los Angeles
Goldman Performance Space, Mt. Washington
12/13/2008 -  
Osvaldo Golijov: Omaramor
Alberto Ginastera: Puneña No. 2 for solo cello, Op. 45
Jane Brockman: Dance of Spirals
Johannes Brahms: Horn Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 40
Cole Porter: Jazz Improvisations, including “I Love You”
Alan Goldman: Jazz Songs

Antonio Lysy (cello), Roger Wilkie (violin), Delores Stevens (piano), Brian O'Connor (horn), Alan Goldman (piano, organ, vocals), Kristin Korb (vocals, bass), Steve Barns (drums)

Jane Brockman (© Diaphonous Music)

Hidden away on Mt. Washington, a relatively unknown region of Los Angeles, “Music and Conversations” is a chamber music series with an ideal venue and extraordinary atmosphere. The warmth and conviviality, both musically and socially, were almost unique in my experience. The program, including contemporary, modernist, and jazz alongside Brahms, was well suited to both the space and the audience. Although the performance of the Brahms Horn Trio was disappointing, the evening was truly exceptional.

The façade of the house is unassuming; walking by, you would never know that a concert was about to take place. But the performance space – added onto the house by the owner and jazz musician Alan Goldman and designed specifically and exclusively for music, is idyllic. The room is mostly on one level below the rest of the house, with the exception of the bar on a small mezzanine near the stairway leading up to the kitchen and front door. Far more intimate than grand, the space feels perfectly in scale with the modest home, but it easily accommodated 60 or more listeners. There are no parallel walls and the ceiling height varies but is mostly at nine feet, with a few exposed wood beams and a narrow vaulted space on one side. The acoustics were successfully designed; the variety of surfaces and protrusions into the space absorb and shape the sound effectively. The ensemble was staged in a corner near the stone fireplace, in front of dark wood framed picture windows that overlook the city. Mr. Goldman originally wanted a hardwood floor, but chose a tightly woven wall-to-wall carpet to improve the acoustics. Carefully designed and distributed lighting, along with good food and excellent wine, completed the atmosphere. The acoustic was incredibly warm and intimate, always close and immediate but never too loud.

Osvaldo Golijov is one of the most admired composers of his generation, and it was a pleasure to hear this unusual tango for solo cello. Described by Golijov as a fantasy on the legendary Carlos Gardel’s most famous song, “Mi Buenos Aires Querido”, the piece is a kind of unaccompanied tango suite for cello. Antonio Lysy’s performance was both brilliant and evocative, supremely technical but in passages as Porteño as Piazzolla. The archaic scordatura tuning offered exotic overtones, and his use of the bow and pizzicato at the same time was also remarkable.

Ginastera’s Puneña was written for Rostropovich, to celebrate the 70th birthday of the conductor and patron Paul Zucker. The two movements of the piece, “Harawi” and “Wayno karnavalito”, are both inspired by the highlands of the Incan Empire. But the first is a melancholy love song and the second seems to be a drinking song inspired by the Indian corn alcohol. It opens with a cello’s high piercing screech, followed by a myriad of peculiar virtuoso techniques, including strumming and playing high up on the bridge, that all manage to serve the melody. It seemed related to Berio and Stockhausen, but was always quintessentially Latin, and drew whoops and whistles from the happy crowd.

Jane Brockman, who also produces the series, described her own piece as based on a musical idea that she could not get out of her head. She said that the theme went in circles, leaped, was quiet, and then jumped again. When she realized that she could not get rid of it, it became exciting to learn what she could do with it. A trio for cello, violin and piano, the piece is percussively driven, rich and thickly textured. Very accessible but jam-packed with musical imagination, the piece is based on a figure played out over and over again in a myriad of complex variations. The violin part was great, and Roger Wilkie was particularly strong. It almost seemed outside of most contemporary classical idioms, as if it were influenced by both Schubert and rock music. If there is a range of contemporary classical music, from easy to hard, from John Corigliano to Elliott Carter, from Christopher Theofanidis to Microtonal to Spectral, I don’t know where this piece would fall. To a programmer, I suppose it might be a little like Jennifer Higdon. But all I could think of is: “What would Menahem Pressler do with this?!!” It should be played!

Brahms great Horn Trio was the disappointment of the evening, but the piece is so gorgeous that it was an enjoyable experience nevertheless. They opened at a slow tempo, a little too slow. Maybe the horn player was having an off day, but the performance felt too much like a read-through, under rehearsed. Too often, they were just not at ease with the music, which demands absolute fluency to be well played. The energy picked up when the piano took the lead, but the horn needed to be more supple and dynamic. The intense volume of the third movement confirmed the acoustic excellence of the room; the music was loud and we were right up close with warmth, balance and no distortion or discomfort. Delores Stevens at the piano led them to an enthusiastic finish and they were met with a roar of applause. (If only someone would donate or lend a vintage Steinway Concert Grand… It would draw some of the other great pianists who are here in Southern California.)

In his introduction to the end of the night, Alan Goldman quipped that Cole Porter is not usually programmed right after Brahms. But for this concert, it was perfect. The jazz musicians joked about gigs in dingy hotel lounges, but their performance teleported us directly to New York’s Café Carlyle. Their improvisations on songs like Cole Porter’s “I Love You” were the ideal way to close the evening, particularly bass player Kristin Korb’s sexy bebop solo. Alan Goldman’s charming irreverent songs were also completely entertaining. They included titles like "We'd Have a Great Relationship If It Weren't for You," and the political lounge jazz of “You Just Cant Make This Shit Up” and “Nothing Is Ever So Bad That It Cant Get Worse.”

Unsung, under-the-radar events like the “Music and Conversations” concert series are an important part of what makes Los Angeles a great global metropolis. Anyone from anywhere in world, who could manage to find these concerts, would be delighted and amazed.

“Music and Conversations” website

Thomas Aujero Small



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