From a Home in Culver City to a Warehouse in Atwater Village: New Venues for Old Music

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On today’s DnA, Thomas Aujero Small talked about the upcoming production of Don Giovanni (with sets by Frank Gehry, costumes by Rodarte, the subject of this DnA). We taped our conversation…

On today’s DnA, Thomas Aujero Small talked about the upcoming production of Don Giovanni (with sets by Frank Gehry, costumes by Rodarte, the subject of this DnA). We taped our conversation in his back yard at his home in Culver City, while awaiting the start of a performance by players from The Nimbus Ensemble (Garik Terzian plays cello in photo, right, by Jean-Claude Demirdjian). They were playing in his home which was purpose-designed for music by architect Whitney Sander (see interior, below right, in photo by Julie Salestrom). Small personifies a growing trend that is revitalizing classical music and opera: performance in offbeat locations away from the concert hall or opera house. Small, a correspondent for The Classical Music Network, writes here about where you can find some music in intriguing spaces.

Excellent music in extraordinary architectural spaces, particularly chamber music, is all the rage in Los Angeles. We have entered a new golden age. Music in a mash-up of traditions: classical, avant-garde, world music…New music and old on the same program, presented in unusual venues, performed by incredibly versatile musicians who can play in many styles. Regardless of budget challenges and questions about the popularity and relevancy of classical music, there seem to be more offerings than ever. It is hard to judge the size of the audience for this music; there are so many presentations here in LA that it is impossible to take in even a fraction of the concerts. Although many groups operate on a shoestring, some are clearly flourishing, including the Ojai Festival and Jacaranda Music in Santa Monica, as well as the venerable and ultramodern LA Philharmonic.

This new golden age of music spans the world, from Brooklyn to Scandinavia to Santa Monica. I can only describe a small cross section of the musical/architectural treasure here in Southern California. In many communities on almost any weekend you can hear good chamber music in a church sanctuary, an industrial loft space or the ballroom of a venerable mansion.

The series Chamber Music in Historic Sites has been presenting music in astonishing architecture for decades, and their programs are now more vibrant and vigorous than ever. They invite many of the best chamber music ensembles and soloists from around the world to perform in unexpected spaces, both aged and modern all across the breadth of greater Los Angeles.

The Ojai Festival is the spry grandfather of international musical excellence. Its history is a portrait of musical composition and virtuosity throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Ojai has always drawn the architectural community and European music critics, with its mix of newborn and classical music, played by some of the world’s best performers. Artistic Director Thomas Morris previously ran both the Boston and Cleveland Symphonies. This year’s music Director is the acclaimed Norwegian pianist, Leif Ove Andsnes. This year’s program opens with the Alaskan composer, John Luther Adams’ piece Inuksuit, performed by an ensemble scattered across the wooded expanse of Libby Park. Other concerts take place in the newly re-designed outdoor amphitheater and in spaces throughout the rural community of Ojai.

Musique, the conductor Rachael Worby’s new Pasadena-based group, has presented chamber music in an antique letterpress studio, and orchestral and popular music with the renowned diva Jessye Norman in the outdoor quad at Cal Tech. Santa Monica’s Jacaranda Music often performs in the acoustically excellent First Pres Church, and will be presenting five pianists in a private Westside garden and staging a festival of John Cage’s music in various spaces across Santa Monica, including the Women’s Club where Cage himself performed. Composer Jane Brockman’s series Music and Conversation performs at the Gam Arts Center- a special effects lighting studio housed in an AIA award winning structure on Pico Blvd.

The musical event with the most heat right now is the Hyper-opera Crescent City. Yuval Sharon, a young veteran of the New York City Opera, directs the show, which is produced by the new LA opera company, The Industry. The production is staged in a huge warehouse-like space in Atwater Village. The creative team includes Cal Arts composer Ann Le Baron, poet Douglas Kearny and six visual artists. This urban post-Katrina story takes place in a desolated jazz- and voodoo-inflected New Orleans, with the action moving across six diverse stage sets, each designed by one of the artists. The audience can move with the action, or can observe from their seats. Crescent City runs through May 27, and the reviews have already been spectacular. See a glowing review of Crescent City by Mark Swed in the Los Angeles Times, here.

Finally, the concerts that take place at our home, Residence for a Briard (named after our French sheep dog), are typically sponsored by one of the manyLos Angeles performing arts groups or foundations. The Nimbus Ensemble hosted our most recent event. Several other groups, including Jacaranda Music, the Calder Quartet, and Chamber Music in Historic Sites, have also held events here. These groups usually handle the invitations. The Architectural Foundation of Los Angeles has also been involved with many of these events, which usually take place three or four times a year. Inquiring through the Architectural Foundation at AFLA.US would be a great way for DNA listeners to learn about and attend one of our future performances.  (Shown, in photo left by Julie Salestrom, the writer’s daughter, Lyra, invited to conduct following a performance by The Nimbus Ensemble)