The L.A. Phil’s Grand vi­sion

A fes­ti­val cel­e­brates the Mu­sic Cen­ter as a place to foster new work and ideas.


Can Grand Av­enue be­come an idea, or an at­ti­tude, as well as a place?

The Mu­sic Cen­ter at 50 is a ma­ture per­form­ing arts cen­ter. Its new­est venue, Frank Gehry’s cel­e­brated Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall — al­ready an L.A. icon — turns 12 in the fall. Next year, the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art’s Arata Isozaki build­ing reaches its third decade. The Broad mu­seum is al­most fin­ished. All this can be found con­cen­trated within three blocks, clearly po­si­tion­ing Grand Av­enue as one of the coun­try’s most im­por­tant arts des­ti­na­tions.

But de­spite a de­sire to

mod­ern­ize parts of its cam­pus, the Mu­sic Cen­ter has put fore­sight on hold as it searches for a new pres­i­dent.

It has thus been left to the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic, the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s most prom­i­nent res­i­dent, to lead as well as prop­erly cel­e­brate the half-cen­tury an­niver­sary. With the Next on Grand fes­ti­val, the orches­tra is do­ing just that, but it is also propos­ing a grander vi­sion of Grand Av­enue as a shel­ter for new work and ideas.

The cen­ter­piece of the fes­ti­val, fo­cused on con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can mu­sic (and in­cludes video, dance and opera), was a se­ries of four pro­grams by the L.A. Phil last week led by Gus­tavo Dudamel, to close the orches­tra’s sea­son.

Th­ese in­cluded three ma­jor orches­tral pieces com­mis­sioned for the oc­ca­sion from three gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­can East Coast com­posers — 78-year-old Philip Glass, 59-year-old Steven Mackey and 39-year-old Bryce Dess­ner.

What may prove most note­wor­thy about the fes­ti­val is how it has re­ver­ber­ated off Grand. It concludes over the next two week­ends with “Avail­able Light” — a re­vival of the 1983 col­lab­o­ra­tive work by Gehry, com- poser John Adams and chore­og­ra­pher Lucinda Childs that opened MOCA’s Tem­po­rary Con­tem­po­rary (now Gef­fen Con­tem­po­rary) in Lit­tle Tokyo, and Los An­ge­les Opera’s pro­duc­tion of David T. Lit­tle’s “Dog Days” at REDCAT and part of the com­pany’s “Off Grand” se­ries.

The L.A. Phil brought the new mu­sic orches­tra wild Up into the Next on Grand mix, with a con­cert Satur­day af­ter­noon at the funky Re­gent Theater, a rock venue a few blocks away on Main Street. Christo­pher Roun­tree con­ducted the pre­mieres of works by feisty, fear­lessly ex­per­i­men­tal col­lege stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing in the L.A. Phil’s Na­tional Com­posers Ini­tia­tive.

It wasn’t just the L.A. Phil that was busy with rel­e­vant pro­gram­ming. In Costa Mesa, the Pa­cific Sym­phony de­voted its con­certs last week to An­dré Previn, who once was a very big deal on Grand Av­enue.

Th­ese days, Previn wouldn’t think of set­ting foot any­where near the Mu­sic Cen­ter. He is so bit­ter about his fall­ing-out with the late Ernest Fleis­chmann, the L.A. Phil’s gen­eral manager when Previn was the orches­tra’s mu­sic direc­tor be­tween 1985 and 1989, that Previn has said that he won’t even change planes at LAX.

I heard the Previn con­cert, con­ducted by Carl St.Clair at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Con­cert Hall on Fri­day night, and it was won­der­ful. It in­cluded the West Coast pre­miere of a con­vivial new Dou­ble Con­certo for vi­o­lin and cello, writ­ten for Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robin­son, with an ir­re­sistibly song­ful slow move­ment. So­prano El­iz­a­beth Ca­ballero was on the grand side for Previn’s song cy­cle “Honey and Rue,” but Toni Mor­ri­son’s texts could take it. St. Clair con­ducted vi­brantly played per­for­mances of Previn’s sprightly “Prin­ci­pals” and the tran­quilly touch­ing “Owls.”

Previn’s gra­cious style might seem far re­moved from the L.A. Phil’s cur­rent Grand Av­enue bold­ness, but had the L.A. Phil in­vited the Pa­cific Sym­phony to be part of Next on Grand (and why not?), Previn’s pres­ence might have been grand­fa­therly ap­pro­pri­ate.

Glass’ Dou­ble Con­certo for Two Pi­anos, which had its pre­miere Thurs­day night, would not have found Previn’s new con­certo an in­com­pat­i­ble com­pan­ion — two al­lur­ing dou­ble con­cer­tos by two of Amer­ica’s most fa­mous, most ver­sa­tile and most pop­ulist com­posers. Dess­ner’s “Quilt­ing,” also pre­miered Thurs­day, fol­lows Previn’s ex­am­ple of mov­ing be­yond a pop sen­si­bil­ity into se­ri­ous orches­tral mu­sic, again with­out los­ing a pop­ulist touch.

But the most fas­ci­nat­ing link is be­tween Previn and Steven Mackey, whose “Mnemosyne’s Pool” Dudamel pre­miered Fri­day and re­peated Sun­day, when I heard it.

Named af­ter the Greek god­dess of mem­ory, the mag­nif­i­cent, nearly 40-minute score is meant as a study in mu­si­cal mem­ory. But that may be lit­tle more than an ex­cuse for a com­poser to give in to rap­ture.

Straus­sian ef­fu­sive­ness and whiffs of melodic sen­ti­men­tal­ity keep es­cap­ing more ef­fort­fully than per- haps typ­i­cal of Previn, but there is a dis­tant kin­ship. Dudamel con­ducted an ap­pro­pri­ately grand per­for­mance.

Sun­day’s pro­gram be­gan with “Shel­ter,” a col­lec­tion of songs about hous­ing by Michael Gor­don, David Lang and Ju­lia Wolfe (the founders of Bang on a Can). They were per­formed by a trio of vo­cal­ists and the new mu­sic en­sem­ble Sig­nal, con­ducted by Brad Lub­man, and along­side a film by Bill Mor­ri­son. The vi­su­als were gor­geously quiet evo­ca­tions of home­steads, lonely land­scapes and con­struc­tion, with per­haps here the added sym­bol­ism of Grand Av­enue as that shel­ter for new mu­sic.

The songs too, with ephemeral texts by Deb­o­rah Art­man, found a mov­ing com­mon ground among Gor­don’s rhyth­mic ag­gres­sive­ness, Wolfe’s har­monic full­ness and Lang’s quirky re­straint.

So while Next on Grand hear­kens to an av­enue of the arts that can be­come a na­tional high­way, let it also re­tain its foun­da­tion.

And may Next on Grand serve as an­other kind of ex­am­ple of the cur­rent Grand Av­enue at­ti­tude fos­tered by the L.A. Phil. Roads are not built with­out re­sources. No other orches­tra any­where has a board with so many re­cep­tive mem­bers who con­sis­tently un­der­write new works, such as th­ese on the fes­ti­val.

Gina Fer­azzi Los An­ge­les Times

MU­SI­CAL DIREC­TOR Carl St.Clair ac­knowl­edges com­poser An­dre Previn, seated in the au­di­ence, dur­ing the Pa­cific Sym­phony trib­ute to him on Fri­day.

Gina Fer­azzi Los An­ge­les Times

IN A RARE SoCal visit, An­dre Previn en­ters Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa.

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