Wednesday, February 29, 2012

When Lucent Met Herakut and Latry at the LA Phil

The return of the verbose concert snob.

Last weekend it was my sublime pleasure to partake not one but two
extraordinary shows in Downtown LA.

The first was the latest show by the underground circus group Lucent
Dossier, entitled "When Lucent Met Herakut". Although it lacked an
overarching storyline as such, the entire thing was an eye-popping
spectacle from the moment one stepped from the dusty sidewalk until
the moment the show viscerally spat one back out into the drab, muted
real world beyond its doors.

Consisting of a mix of steampunk and derelict aesthetics,
inspirational facepaint, dynamic set design and construction, live
electronic music on classical instruments, setting things on fire, and
insanely energetic dancing, it was a seductive induction to a land of
alternate logic and the celebration of the grotesque and peculiar.

Highlights included costume gloves with very long fingers reminiscent
of Harajuku in mid-2007, and a sequence of ever evolving and expanding
aerial performances in which an integer number of people hung from the
ceiling on nothing more than a ribbon wrapped around their waist,
often spinning another performer dangling by their finger nails. At
the beginning of the second act one set of costume overalls containing
a man was spray painted with a star shaped stencil in the middle of an

Following the show the theatre was transformed into an electronic
dance party in which the audience, mostly dressed for the occasion,
pulsated to the distorted rhythms well into the night.

The next day I still hadn't adequately sabotaged my academic program,
so decided to spend Sunday evening at the LA Phil watching an organ
recital. Passing Pasadena's resident Tourette's suffering crazy old
lady, I managed to leave the mothership and return once more Downtown.

Despite the sad infrequency of recitals on the magnificent instrument
at the Disney Hall, the ones I have attended thus far have all left a
strong impression. This one certainly promised that. The most recent
recital was by Laszlo Fassang (which I also reviewed), a student at
Notre Dame of none other than one of the finest organists of our age,
Olivier Latry. Latry, born in 1962, is one of the four organistes
titulaire at Notre Dame in Paris, an expert at improvisation, and none
other than the artist of this evening's recital!

In contrast to Fassang's knowing wink at the standard repertoire,
Latry did not even treat us to some improvisational fireworks. Instead
he presented three pieces of the modern genre, each more ambitious
than the last.

Beginning with Heiller's Tanz Toccata, a short and spritely piece that
exploited the exquisite tuning and mechanical health of the Disney
Hall organ, the audience was casually warned that they were in for the
complete opposite of hymns and other standard organ fare.

Next he delivered Alain's Three Dances, a piece of about 25 minute's
duration in which a very interesting theme was developed and repeated
many times, each with a different tonal palette drawn from the ranks
and inexorably moving towards a series of musical climaxes.

Following intermission, the real show began. While it will celebrate
its 100th birthday next year, Stravinski's "Le Sacre du Printemps" or
"Rite of Spring" is a watershed work for ballet depicting in music and
rhythm the ecstatic sacrifice through dance of a young woman in a
prehistoric tribal society. The final panel of Stravinski's
revolutionary triptych beginning with Firebird (1910) and Petrushka
(1911), 99 years of ensuing controversy combined with its enduring
stylistic uniqueness have made it one of the most famous pieces of
music ever written.

Originally written for a large symphony orchestra, and making full use
of the tonal resources therein, reduction to a keyboard instrument
presents a unique challenge. For this, Latry was joined on stage by
fellow organist Shin-Young Lee. Together they played a four-hand,
four-foot transcription of the work. To manipulate the stops of the
organ, the page turner was pressed into service activating presets via
a button on the side of the console. Slightly overtaxed in this
capacity, Latry himself ended up turning the good half of the pages
and stop changes where his cue had been missed! Such side distractions
only added to the dramatic tension as the innovatively lit organ
produced sound after sound, mimicking the orchestral sounds with all
the precision and cohesion of an expert orchestral performance.

In Rite of Spring, Stravinski broke down many fundamental elements of
western music, including tempo, pitch relations, rhythm conventions,
and movement structure. This left the composer free to recreate from
scratch the music he needed to paint his sacrificial vision. 99 years
after its premiere we heard all that afresh in a concert that combined
the breadth of orchestral tone and colour and the focus and vision of
a single performer (or two, in this case).

Following a brief encore consisting of the last movement of the piece,
the audience, mostly recognizable regulars of the organ recital
series, filed from the hall into the balmy indigo evening, once again
filled with a sort of collective personal satisfaction practically
impossible to share with people for whom music after Mozart went
inexorably down hill. Such is life.

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