News outlets last year fell over themselves in breathless haste to try and make sense of the battle cry let out against those forces perceived to be “the establishment.” Its din not only continues to echo well into 2017, but will also likely grow louder. The revolutionaries of one decade become the fusty reactionaries of the next, being beset in turn by a new generation of revolutionaries who will see their own comeuppance in a future generation. Is there ever really anything new under the sun?
Vicky Ray’s Piano Spheres recital from on Tuesday, Jan. 31 gravitated around “dream teams:” piano as partner with other instruments. But Ray’s thoughtfully curated program probed that theme further still. Most of the composers on her program had been alums of Bang On A Can. Two of them – Julia Wolfe and Michael Gordon – are married to each other. She and composer David Lang were winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Music. All the composers on the program seemed to inhabit a similar aesthetic realm of pop-influenced post-minimalism.
In short, another theme presented itself: Here is the American new music establishment.
Heard one after the other the music of these establishment composers and their acolytes gave the impression of blurring into a sometimes indistinguishable band of dull grey, invariably ingratiating, to be sure. Most memorable was Dylan Mattingly’s “Dreams and False Alarms” for two pianos tuned a quarter-tone apart. Even then, however, it fell prey to the postmodern composer’s penchant for relying on quoting or heavily alluding to other composers’ music, in this case Joni Mitchell. When the likes of Charles Ives, Luciano Berio and Alfred Schnittke employed this device in the mid-20th century, it was startling. In 2017 it’s a habit that ought to be subject to a moratorium.
The performances by Ray, who was joined by pianists Aron Kallay and Joanne Pearce Martin along with the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, was searching and sensitive.
Gustav Mahler the composer was certainly not part of the musical establishment of his lifetime. (Mahler the conductor is another story.) His “Symphony No. 7,” which was played by the Colburn Orchestra under Yehuda Gilad on Saturday at Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium, is something of an outlier in his output. Equal parts daring, beautiful, and garrulous, the work hasn’t earned the success of its more focused and dramatic predecessor, nor that of the poignant weltschmerz of his late symphonies.
Gilad and the Colburn made the best case for this fascinating, but flawed work. Great attention was lavished on the panoply of impressionist coloring in the first movement. The three central Nachtmusiken moved swiftly without feeling harried. Finest of all was their performance of the finale, which accented this music’s brilliance and ironic caricature.
Mahler returned the next day on a Le Salon De Musiques program with another composer who found himself, for the most part, looking in from the outside: Franz Schubert. Aside from sharing difficulties in gaining widespread acceptance, both composers shared a keen awareness of death, not as an intruder, but as a natural force that lives among life itself.
The former composer’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen,” which opened the program, is a continuation of sorts to the death-haunted world of Schubert’s “Die Winterreise.” Baritone David Castillo delicately outlined the youthful pathos of this score.
Schubert’s “Piano Trio No. 2″ and “Notturno” were the centerpieces of the program. How the composer would have fared had he lived even 10 years longer will remain one of music’s great mysteries. But it’s an awesome thing to contemplate the remarkable maturity of these works, composed in the last two years of the composer’s short life.
Le Salon de Musiques founder and pianist Francois Chouchan, violinist Chiai Tajima and cellist Timothy Landauer were a model of chamber music partnership: Each voice woven into a single noble tapestry that, nevertheless, allowed each strand to tell.
Theirs was playing that illuminated what remains revolutionary about Schubert still: The interior world that he reveals to the listener. Nothing like it had in music existed prior to that. It’s a strikingly prescient quality that forecasted Mahler and even much of today’s music.
Though he didn’t live to see it happen, Schubert has become part of the classical music establishment. But as with all great art, it contains with it the seeds that may, in time, inspire rebellion and renewal once more.