Whenever I visit another country, I seek out church concerts. The acoustics are amazing and the settings are inspiring. Santa Monica’s First Presbyterian Church on Second Street rivals any city’s cathedral with its stunning stained glass art, welcoming brick courtyard and architecturally contemporary chapel. There’s no better venue for Jacaranda’s Music at the Edge.
Next year marks Jacaranda’s 10th anniversary. Under the aegis of Patrick Scott and Mark Alan Hilt, the series presents music mostly missing from the cultural life of Los Angeles in compelling performances that make you wonder why. They’re proud of the musicians whose careers they’ve helped launch, such as pianist Stephen Vanhauwaert who performed on Saturday night, and they’re known not just for discovering lesser-known works but for premiering music by such world-renowned composers as Sofia Gubaidulina and Terry Riley, featured in upcoming concerts.
On Saturday night, “Chill Upon the Heat” — especially apt on that rainy, gusty night — showcased music by Leon Kirchner, Richard Rodney Bennett, Christopher Rouse and William Schuman, all 20th century composers whose works I’ve never heard.
The L.A.-based Calder Quartet is incredible in its vibrant precision and modulations, where four instruments often combine to sound like a single, completely different instrument. They performed “String Quartets 2 and 3” by Christopher Rouse. Had you not seen the title, you still would hear the birds thanks to flutist Pamela Vliek Martchev’s pitch-perfect performance of “Six Tunes for the Instruction of Singing Birds” by Bennett. Kirchner’s “Five Piano Pieces” were expertly executed by Vanhauwert, while Schuman’s setting of “In Sweet Music, Serenade on a Setting of Shakespeare” was treated by harp, viola, flute and the crystalline soprano skills of Suzanne Walters.
Find out about the remaining 2012 concerts at jacarandamusic.org.
Anything but ordinary
“Those of you with iPhones, Androids, cellphones of all kinds — please turn them on! Take pictures, videos, send tweets and post to Facebook in real time — and please copy me!”
That’s not the kind of announcement you usually hear before a concert. But this was not a “usual” event and Rachael Worby is not your traditional impresario.
This was Muse/Ique, a unique music experience and a mash-up of performance and salon. Muse/Ique’s first full season, “Uncorked,” launched Monday night with “Ebony Meets Ivory” on the Pasadena Civic Auditorium stage — mops, pails, ladders, brooms, platforms all visible against the walls — set with tables and chairs and rows of seats surrounding three pianos placed in a central circle.
Worby, formerly director of Pasadena Pops, has created a new way to make music personal, accessible and family-friendly. Here, the talent mingles with the crowd, and Worby stands in the middle with a microphone to introduce the show.
Piano was the focus, starting with Worby’s backgrounder on the invention of the instrument and how it works, followed by comedic performer Sandra Tsing Loh — a pianist herself — who read Ogden Nash’s poem, “Piano Tuner, Untune Me That Tune,” dedicated to “Chopsticks.” She then played it with her daughter.
Next an exposition on Bach — unknown as a composer in his lifetime, who didn’t even like the piano, which had just been invented at the time — whose works are now considered essential to the piano canon. Joanne Pearce Martin and Gavin Martin played “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” on two pianos.
Bach’s practice of polyphony, the “braiding” of multiple lines into a single melody, was illustrated by multi-hyphenate Julia Greer, a mother, roller blader, CalTech professor and researcher specializing in nano-mechanics, who performed Bach while speaking — in rhythm with the music — about her scientific studies.
Bryan Pezzone improvised on the Beatles’ “Let it Be” filtered through the lens of Bach, and later “We Shall Overcome,” in the style of Beethoven, and told a moving story about how piano — which he began playing at age one-and-a-half — defines “home” for him. His mother was young and ill, and living with his grandparents, his uncle would walk him down the alley to his great-grandparents’ home where he’d play piano every day.
Piano holds center stage not only in concert halls but in wine bars, honky-tonks and cafes, and another moving story was shared, about Polish composer Lutislawski. During World War II, trapped in occupied Warsaw, where concerts were banned as illegal gatherings, he and a jazz player performed in a café. He wrote almost 500 works for two pianos, all but one of which were lost when he escaped — a variation on “Caprice,” the famous theme by violin virtuoso and composer Paganini, performed here on just one piano by Markus Pawlik and Julia Greer.
There were other performances, but the grand finale was indeed grand: John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” played by six pianists, sharing three pianos, by the end all standing up like Jerry Lee Lewis for the rousing conclusion. Goose bumps rising, the crowd leapt to its feet for a standing ovation.
Future Muse/Ique events include a western-themed evening at the Autry Center, a 45th anniversary celebration of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” and String Theory with an original “sonic sculpture” composition. Summer events will feature trumpet virtuoso Arturo Sandoval. Visit http://muse-ique.com/ for details.
Free theatre at home
If you love great theatre but don’t want to spend time driving, paying for parking or even leaving the house, curl up in front of your radio. LA Theatre Works debuts March 25 on public radio station KPFK (90.7 FM), Sundays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Renowned for staged readings before a live audience with top-billed actors, LA Theatre Works has been producing for more than 20 years. This Sunday, Yvette Freeman, who won an OBIE award for her role as Dinah Washington in the off-Broadway hit, “Dinah Was,” recreates her performance — the rhythms, the tough breaks, and the tender notes that fired the life and music of the legendary singer.
Coming up: Calista Flockhart in Ibsen’s “A Doll House” (April 1); “Lobby Hero” by Kenneth Lonergan with original off-Broadway cast member Tate Donovan (April 8); and A.R. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour” with Bruce Davison and Keene Curtis (April 15), also recreating their off-Broadway performances. Tune in or attend a live performance; visit http://www.LATW.org and http://www.KPFK.org.
Sarah Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for National Public Radio and a producer for public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.