By Ted AYALA
Above the main streets of Hollywood, where cars driven by Friday night club and bar hoppers crowded the streets, stereo systems thumping top 40 radio, music of another sort lured music lovers up the wending streets looming over the Hollywood skyline. A program of new music from local composers was held last Friday night at the Russian Hall on Argyle Street.
Three of the Los Angeles area’s most dynamic classical music groups – the young Los Angeles composers’ collective, Synchromy; the Symbiosis Chamber Orchestra and Music on Argyle – met up in a musical collaboration that celebrated the dynamism and diversity of the region’s new music scene.
How diverse? Try the works that bookended the program’s first half for starters.
Vera Ivanova’s “Four Variations for Two” led the evening with music that explored the extreme registers of the flute, weaving a delicate interplay with a small battery of percussion that accompanied and paired it. Or them, rather, as Ivanova instructed her flautist to switch from the standard flute to piccolo and alto flute by turns. The sonorities coaxed were at once refined and primitive, glimmering like broken shards of glass in sunlight. Long held tones, flutter-tonguing and pitch bending were just some of the weapons in Ivanova’s arsenal, one which flautist Johanna Borenstein and percussionist Yuri Inoo dispatched with sureness and control.
On the other end you had the first movement of George N. Gianopoulos’ “String Quintet,” an affectionate and wryly witty homage to the Viennese waltz. Bubbling away with a disarming amiability, the music’s likeability belies the sophistication of Gianopoulos’ voice. This is a composer with an unerring ear for taking the old and refashioning it into something fresh and new, juggling musical tradition and contemporary sensibility with acrobatic finesse. The members of Symbiosis here – Stirling Trent (1st violin), Mishkar Nuñez-Mejia (2nd violin), Bryan Gonzales (viola), Lars Hoefs (1st cello) and Joo Lee (2nd cello) – clearly agreed, their delight palpable in every bar.
Sandwiched in between were works by Jason Barabba and a sly musical miniature – “Tiny Machine Designed to Make Altocumulus Clouds” – reminiscent of Josef Matthias Hauer by Nick Gordon. Too miniature, perhaps, because at barely over a minute, this tasty aperitif whets the appetite for a main course that never arrives. Can we hope for something more substantial at the next concert?
Barabba’s work, “a declarative sentence whose message is that we must try harder,” found its inspiration in the poetry of hipster icon Tao Lin, though the composer took pains to inform his audience that the work was merely an “impression” of Tao Lin’s poetry, not a straight setting.
Employing moments of controlled chance in the manner of Witold Lutoslawski’s music, Barabba’s work was a searching piece that took the seemingly bass heavy combination of viola, cello and double bass, and wrought from them beautifully prismatic colors. Alternating between serenity and severity, the piece duly impressed, emerging as some of Barabbas’ best work to date; an intriguingly moody work that stands in sharp contrast to the absurd humor that informs much of his music.
The second half of the program was also a superb study of contrasts and musical diversity, with the opening work as grim as the closing was jaunty.
Continuing the poetic inspiration was “Years” by Damjan Rakonjac, a setting for voice and small instrumental ensemble of an eponymous poem by Sylvia Plath. Though the instrumental music captured the ear’s attention, the setting for voice remained curiously sullen. Soprano Roksana Rakonjac acquitted herself admirably, though one wished for more body and firmness in her top register, which tended to hoot and thin out. The music seems to demand a bigger voice, so a future hearing with a heftier voiced singer may well reveal the true stature of this work.
Daniel Gall’s playful chamber suite landed the program back home by way of his “Songs of L. A. Life” for a quartet of flute, clarinet, viola and cello (played by Amy Tatum, Andy Leonard, Bryan Gonzalez, and Lars Hoefs respectively).
After the concert, Gall mentioned how the music, in particular the central “In My Dark Corner” movement, was an expression of his “dark side.” If anything resembling existential anguish were lurking in this music, it bypassed these ears completely. This was radiant, life affirming music where the shadows of melancholy occasionally shadowed the landscape, but never pose a dire threat.
The influence of swing and cabaret music heavily marked the finale, “And The Stars Come Out To Play,” though the music ends with an unexpectedly poignant air of quiet resignation.
A triumph from this very gifted composer – one that intrepid chamber ensembles on the hunt for fresh repertoire should seize upon immediately.