Los Angeles, 1994: The next Paris?
Surviving a series of Musical
I received a flier in the mail announcing a concert by Cantori Domino, a Santa Monica based choir which had recently performed the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610. The concert announcement married J.S. Bach's Der Geist Hilft with Beauty of God, Surochandra and "selected ragas." I suddenly realized what a remarkable document I was holding in my hand and how my beloved hometown had grown up in a little over one generation.
The transformation of the City of Tinsel into the City of Lights was virtually complete by the inception of the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984, a wildly successful venture that confirmed the wisdom of the IOC's selection of LA for the XXIIIrd Olympiad. Much has been written about the international synthesis of the arts that occurred in this festival and its continuing life; however, it struck me that in the area of contemporary music, the international integration of styles and personalities was very much in forefront of Los Angeles culture as early as the late 30's. A quick perusal of Schoenberg and Stravinsky world premieres immediately confirms LA as a mecca for expatriate innovative European composers, and a brief listing of the likes of Korngold, Steiner, Toch, Zeisl, etc. on countless film credits adds to the international prominence.
As early as January of 1937 the Kolisch Quartet performs the world premiere of Schoenberg's Fourth Quartet Op. 37. 1 This event is followed in the next three years by premieres of the Suite for String Orchestra (May 18, 1935), Schoenberg's recomposition of the Brahms Op. 25 for Orchestra, both performed by the LA Philharmonic conducted by Otto Klemperer, and the Kol nidre Op. 39 with the composer conducting. Many other significant works were born in Los Angeles where Schoenberg resided until his death in 1951, and some musical landmarks, like the Phantasy for violin and piano Op. 47 (Sept. 13, 1949) received important world premieres. The soloists were the American, Leonard Stein and the expatriot, Adolf Koldolsky.
Igor Stravinsky's "American Period" encompasses even a greater
exposure in Los Angeles. With nearly twenty world premieres of chamber works
in the Evenings-On-The-Roof (later the Monday Evening Concerts). Los Angeles
represented one of the most significant venues for the composer's work. Robert
Craft observes:"The character of Stravinsky's music as a whole is radically
different in the early California period from that of the last years in Europe."2
This evidence of a two-way influence of the multicultural environment is
already present: composers from "there" change the scene "here,"
and they are, in turn changed by living in LA. Stravinsky already had an
hors d'oeuvre of the "informality and radically different 'life style'
of Southern California"3
when he was asked by Walt Disney to visit the studio in 1939 for a preview of the Fantasia enriched Rite of Spring with its dubious structural modifications .
On March 6, 1944 Stravinsky heard his first Evenings-On-The-Roof concert and met Ingolf Dahl, who was to become his closest professional associate to 1948.4 In April of 1945 the Russian-American club asked the composer to contribute to an American-Russian fellowship concert, and Stravinsky conducted the Firebird Suite there, thus establishing a precedent for a long series of performances of the early ballets in Los Angeles through the present day with the yearly visits of Pierre Boulez.
If we blow the dust off the past and begin with a tour of typical Los Angeles Philharmonic programs from over thirty years ago, it should be possible to see the "foreign invasion" of contemporary world premieres and further confirm the growing importance of Los Angeles as the place to show off one's wares. Of course, almost all films opened in LA first, but at that time they had not gained the snob appeal that the other, older arts had attained. The 1960-61 season kicked off with three pairs of concerts conducted by Georg Solti, headlined by the Beethoven Symphonies 1&9 in the pairs of November 10-11. Subsequent concerts featured world premieres of the Paul Creston Violin Concerto No. 2 (Nov. 17-18 in a program that included works of Haydn, Saint-Saens, and Bartók ), the Martin David Levy Symphony No. 1 (Dec. 15-16) in a program under the direction of Alfred Wallenstein which included the Beethoven Violin Concerto, and the Brahms Symphony No. 4), and a performance of the American composer, John Vincent's Symphony in D under Walter Hendl (April 6-7, 1961). The two pairs in January list the everpresent Firebird and Petrouchka Suites of Stravinsky, the latter conducted by the twenty-five year old Zubin Mehta from India. The following summer he is to take over the music directorship of the orchestra.
The 1961-62 season5 features performances of Hindemith's Symphonia Serena, Boris Blacher's Orchestral Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Honegger's Symphony No. 2, and Vaughan Williams Variations on a Theme of Tallis as well as home grown products like Gunther Schuller's Dramatic Overture and Vincent's Symphonic Poem after Descartes. Throughout the 60's the programs tend to mix performances of contemporary mainstream European composers alternating on programs with pieces by US born composers, every other concert being a heavy serving of warhorses (mostly German) from the past. The kind of multicultural replication in the concert milieu is at least a decade away, and other alternative venues have yet to be created. A landmark performance takes place in the March 14-15 pair in 1963 which featured the avant-garde 12-tone Symphony for Strings and Percussion of William Kraft, the then newly appointed timpanist of the orchestra and a composer who would serve as the Los Angeles Philharmonic's first Composer in Residence some twenty years later. The importance of such performances in Los Angeles is that they indicate an expansion of cultural consciousness into the more adventuresome and experimental realm which must characterize at least part of the soul of a great leading city. This era also marks the opening of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on December 6, 1964 and the completion of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in its Hancock Park location earlier that year.
We will resume the tour of the Phil after a short side trip to the contemporary chamber music side of LA, most notably the Monday Evening Concerts alluded to earlier I include an extensive statement from a 1957 article by Lawrence Morton, the Director of the Series until 1971:
Music does not have to be likable to be performed at our concerts.
be an impertinence merely to like or dislike works such as Schoenbergs Third
Quartet or Stravinsky's Canticum Sacrum.) Music does not has to be beautiful to
receive our attentions. (Is anything uglier than Beethoven's Grosse Fugue?) Certainly we do
not require that music be pretty. (That would eliminate practically all of Bach.)
But music does have to be what we (This is a collective, not an editorial "we") regard as
interesting......Some music is interesting merely because it is new. Any new work by a reputable
living composer is worth programming.6
Morton goes on to enumerate two categories of composers: established mainstream composers whose works woud also be found on LA Philharmonic programs (Hindemith, Copland, Barber, etc.), and "radical" composers (Boulez, Stockhausen, etc.) because, as Morton elaborates "they have found new techniques, new methods, new sonorities."
I would like to direct your attention to the heavy focus on newness in
art works suggested here; the focus is doubly powerful in a location (Los
Angeles) which has always prided itself on embracing the newest and latest
(a feature revealed in cinematic parodies from Preston Sturges' Sullivan's
Travels of the 40's to the more recent Steve Martin LA Stories.)
The coincidence of trendiness and the emergence of an international avant-garde
forum for the presentation of music represented an almost indestructible
fortress of novelty which is just now (in the 90's) being questioned and
ultimately challenged by such concert series as Mark Carlson's Pacific Serenades
(more about this potential giant killer later) and the Lo Cal Composers.
The rebirth of the avant-garde in California should not really surprise anyone
since so many experimental composers studied here, whether it be John Cage
who came for Schoenberg, or Lou Harrison who helped build the Pacific Rim
with his incorporation of gamelan into Western music, or Harry Partch who
invented his own scales (another indication outside of music would be the
proliferation of fantasy and experimental architecture which sprouted in
Los Angeles in the 30's and which set the scene for the Postmodern and Deconstructionist
boom of today. Contemporary architects like Eric Owen Moss admit the influence
of John Cage.7
The significance of the Lawrence Morton tenure as Director of the Monday Evening Concerts was that he designed programs which balanced new music with unfamiliar pieces from the distant past, thus creating a continuity of the art. The first concert was given on September 20, 1954 as a memorial to Dylan Thomas and featured the premiere of the Stravinsky work of that name. The In Memorium Dylan Thomas was the centerpiece of the program, it followed recorded readings by the poet and a short elegy by Aldous Huxley, and it was repeated. The program closed with J.S. Bach's somber Cantata 106 Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit. All of the other music on the program was from the early Baroque, featuring funeral music of Purcell, Schütz, Gabrieli, and Willaert. A brief overview of that first season reveals that all of the programs had a similar kind of historical makeup. In the November 15 program, for example works of Bartók, Schoenberg, and Webern were interspersed with the Three Sacred Symphonies of Schütz and Cantata 131 of Bach. In all, a dozen programs were giventhat first season. In an interesting program note at the end of the March 28 concert, Oscar Moss, President of the Southern California Chamber Music Society, provide a statistical breakdown of the historical repertoire of that season: "58% 'old,' dating from about 1450 to 1900: 33% was Baroque or Renaissance, 11% Classical, 14% Romantic. The other 42% was 'modern': 17% of the 'atonal' persuasion, 16% 'neoclassical,' and 9% of 'other tendencies.'8 Moss goes on to formulate a breakdown of the modern repertoire by national origin of the composers: 12% by Americans, including composers of foreign birth who are now American citizens, and 10% by composers who live in Los Angeles.
The 1955-56 season was inaugurated with a complete performance of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 on October 3, 1955 under the direction of Robert Craft and was dedicated to the memory of Oscar Moss who was recently deceased. In a program note his admonition is quoted: "Don't overload the concerts with any one kind of anything," a warning which is, unfortunately not heeded in many concerts of the present day. While celebrity performers like Andre Previn and Lukas Foss were often featured, many unknown but excellent musicians were given a chance to demonstrate their versatility. A complete list of works from the years 1954-71 reveals perhaps the most catholic assemblage of contemporary composers anywhere in the world. While Stavinsky probably garners the prize for the most works performed (49 including very significant works like Agon, Persephone, Symphony of Psalms, and the 12-tone Canticum Sacrum) , a close second to the number by J.S Bach (52), the list contains substantial representations by Copland, Boulez, Varèse, Webern, Stockhausen, with a good representation by Los Angeles composers like Ingolf Dahl, Aurelio De La Vega, or Dorrance Stalvey ( The large number of Stravinsky performances continued under Stalvey with a total of 46 to November 1991).
The last concert under Morton's directorship, May 3, 1971, featured a repertoire for his own "pleasure." In A Very Personal Program Note 9 he describes the paraneters ofhis choices. noteworthy, is his insistence of " no avant-garde music " (his phrase) but rather masterpieces of contemporary repertoire. The concert was conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas and featured Sederunt Principes of Perotin, Fili mi, Absalon of Schütz (a piece from the very first program), J.S. Bach's Cantata No. 60, O Ewigkeit,du Donnerwort, works of Monteverdi, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and a performance of Edgard Varèse's Ionisation to close the program. It is ironic that only today, in concert series like the previously mentioned Pacific Serenades or in the MEC itself, is this kind of balance being maintained ( a good example is the initial program of the 1993-94 season of the MEC entitled "Old Wine in New Bottles" which features transcriptions by Wuorinen, Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, etc. of music of the distant past). During the 60's on the east coast, ensembles like the Group for Contemporary Music based at Columbia in New York were more aggressively promoting the avant-garde scenario; and, with rare exception like Charles Wuorinen's Bearbeitungen über das Glogauer Liederbuch transcription, the programs were heavily weighted to premieres. With the ascendency of Dorrance Stalvey to the directorship, the MEC begins policy which more closely mirrors those academically based resident ensembles elsewhere (later, we will discuss the cyclical evolution of this series as it responds to various cultural changes).
I would like to return to the Los Angeles Philharmonic for a thumbnail sketch of the panoply of performances of contemporary works throughout the early seventies in order to demonstrate how the orchestra begins to program works on the leading edge of musical taste. The Fifty-Third season (1971-72) includes a range from Ernest Bloch's Symphony with Trombone Solo to the world premiere of the young Daniel Kessner's Strata. The season also provided audiences with works of more lasting significance like George Crumb's Echoes of Time and the River (Mar. 9,10,12) and Terry Riley's In C (at UCLA and El Camino College). The season is notable in that a works by women, Grazyna Bacewicz (Contradizione), Margaret Bonds (Credo and Dark Water), Gladys Nordenstrom (Elegy for R.F. Kennedy), Ledia Palmer (Juggler's Fantasy), and Elinor Remick Warren (Symphony in One Movement), begin to make a substantial showing. In fact, of the twenty-six contemporary composers represented that season, about 20% are women. It is around this time that the Arnold Schoenberg Institute is being built on the campus of the University of Southern California (completed 1973). While most of the programs reflect the most visible European mainstream composers and performers, laced with performances of Schoenberg's music, extraordinary events, like the piano recital of Ms. Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, a composer from Azerbaijan ((October 25, 1989) and seminars relating music to the other arts (Schoenberg to Kandinsky, March 13, 1990), helped to enrich the cultural mix.
Often it seems that the conventional wisdom in matters of large, established institutions of art observes that these institutions lag far behind the prevailing cultural trends: here the LA Phil. almost seems to be ahead of its time in the world of male-dominated music composition. Although this policy is not at all consistent (the 1972-73 season has only one work by a woman composer Piano Concerto No. 2 by Margaret Harris, represented and the 1973-74 season has none), there is some sensitivity to these issues, as there is sensitivity to the representation of cultural diversity. Works by Latino, Asian, as well as European composers pepper these seasons in a stylistic flurry of works from Aurelio De La Vega to Bruno Maderna. One season, 1975-76, contains works by Hoydu, Michio Miyagi, Jorge Morel, and Silvestre Revueltas. At the same time, representation by African American composers begins to be more substantial outside of jazz pieces: in 1972 the Phil performs William Grant Still's Festival Overture and Ulysses Kay has performances both in 1975 (Of New Horizons and 1976 (Markings). 1976 also sees transcriptions of spirituals and a performance of the scherzo of Still's Afro-American Symphony.
Reflecting the political climate of the 70's the programs of the LA Philharmonic are a mirror of cultural and racial diversity. The orchestra also seems to have entered the realistic forefront of stylistic diversity. the importance of this observation is that the cultural and intellectual makeup of the people of Los Angeles are then accurately reflected in its cultural institutions. The period after 1980 seems to be one of political retrenchment: the presence of the stolid and anti intellectual Reagan in Washington, California's contribution to the national artistic debt, has repercussions throughout the country and particularly in Southern California. As money for the arts dries up and the responsibility for funding falls increasingly on the private sector, the established artistic institutions become less adventuresome and broadly representative.
From the middle 80's the number and diversity of world premieres in the regular season of the Los Angeles Philharmonic diminish:
1984-85: Kraft, Interplay; Ives, Holidays Symphony (rev.);
Takemitsu, Piano Concerto; Del Tredici, Happy Voices.
1985-86: Erickson, Auroras; McLaughlin, Guitar Concerto; Rudhyar, Encounter.
1986-87: Berio, Orchestration of Brahms Clarinet Sonata Op. 120; Kraft, Contextures II.
1989-90: Powell, Duplicates; Harbison, Concerto for Double Brass Choir and Orchestra.
1990-91: Rands, Body and Shadow (west coast premiere) ; Stucky, Angelus.
1991-92: Subotnick, Key to Songs.
1992-93: Lutoslawski, Symphony No. 4; Reynolds, Symphony.
1993-94: Rands, Symphony, Rouse, Cello Concerto.
In this area the emphasis gets shifted to the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group (later the Green Umbrella), first directed by William Kraft. Its first concert, November 16, 1981 featured a program of five works by Jacob Druckman, preceded by the Debussy Trio for Flute ,Viola and Harp. Subsequent programs highlighted some special feature or segment of the new music scene. While many of the programs look similar to those of the Monday Evening Concerts of that time (the usual Boulez et. al), Kraft made attempts to introduce new winds blowing (sometimes too often from the east coast). The March 9th concert of 1982 featured the Philip Glass ensemble and forced the LA public to confront and take seriously the new religion of minimalism. Concerts like "The Soviet Avant-Garde" (April 5, 1982) gave Angelenos their first earfull of Alfred Schnittke (Hymns, 1974) and Arvo Part (American premiere of Modus). The program included a work of Edison Denisov and the longtime Los Angeles institution,Nicolas Slonimsky (Dialogues, 1964). The 1983 season further expanded the realm with an evening with Steve Reich (January 17), something called "Hands Across the Sea," (US/Britain collaboration), and "New Music and the Voice" (February 7). What Kraft tried to do was to create a unifying theme to the concerts, often with gratifying success: a particular triumph was a concert called "Varèse and Friends" which featured music of Ruggles, McPhee, Chou Wen-Chung, Slonimsky, and a rare performance of Varèse's Ecuatorial. Often, composers far off the beaten path, like Conlon Nancarrow, would be given an entire program (January 30, 1984), or elder statesman like Michael Tippett would be celebrated (January 14, 1985).
Although much is being made now of the return of tonality to new music in the guise of neo romanticism, minimalism, post modernism, etc., the Los Angeles Philhamonic New Music Group put on a concert entitled: "Stravinsky and After: The New Tonality" in November of 1986 under the direction of John Harbison. With the Stravinsky Octet as a touchstone and the world premiere of Daniel Lentz's electrominimal Crack in the Bell as a focus, Harbison created the much needed bridge between the now and the then. The title "The Green Unbrella" first makes its apearance on the program of the November 9, 1987 concert. Unfortunately, the program was "business a usual" with a parade of Steiger, Martino, and Rzewski. As the series gets under way during the late 80's, it starts to reflect many other alternative music series and festivals, such as the yearly festival held at CalArts and the many events at the Japan America Theater.
Returning to the Monday Evening Concert Series after 1971, what struck me ws the sheer number of different composers represented in the last twenty odd years . Unfortunately, the shotgun approach has made the series less popular with the general audience, while providing the contemporary music enthusiast with a rich musical buffet. In the second decade (after 1981) specialized concerts begin to make their appearance, so that the series begins to acquire a large cultural focus. A good example is the concert of January 10th, 1983 which featured Spanish or Latino composers for the entire program. Traditional but neglected works, like Manuel De Falla's Harpsichord Concerto share the spotlight with Mario La Vista's Canto del Alba from 1979, Juan Orrego-Salas' Pesencias (1972), or Marlos Nobre's O Canto Multiplicado (1972). Another good example of a concept oriented program was the "14th-Century Avant-Garde" program given on November 28, 1988, which wedded the avant-garde aesthetic of evolving revolution to the works of Ciconia, Cunlier, and others of the distant past. This specialized focussed approach has bled over to other concerts at the County Museum which feature ancient music or music and artists from other cultures. At the MEC itself, even a casual perusal of the 1993-94 season reveals a whole program dedicated to the late John Cage ("An Evening for John Cage [1912-1992]) which which was given October 18, 1993 or an entire program for Hans Werner Henze's El Cimarron (March 28, 1994). Although contemporary opera has not fared well in Los Angeles,10 the MEC has continued to present fascinating vocal concerts ranging from a special concert on November 4, 1964 which presented the canons of Arnold Schoenberg (all nineteen of them), to Crumb's Ancient Voices of Children, to Berio's Circles (March 19, 1984).
These days, the term, "world premiere" is used for any new work; however, in the MEC there were a number of globally significant premieres or works that had more than local impact: Kenneth Gaburo's multimedia Antipathy VI ("Cogito"), premiered April 10, 1972, Bernard Rands' Obbligato, premiered March 17, 1980, and Morton Feldman's Piano and String Quartet, premiered November 2, 1985, are notable examples. One can find important premieres by Karl Kohn, William Kraft, Conlon Nancarrow, Morton Subotnick, etc. as well, confirming the series' high level of visibility in the field. The fact that many of these composers- Kraft, Kohn, Del La Vega, Stalvey- live right in Los Angeles is added proof that LA is a major cultural force.
The MEC has also distinguished itself in the presentation of music by an unprecedented twenty-two women composers in a wide variety of styles. Notably, Grazyna Bacewicz, Joan La Barbara, Ruth Crawford-Seegar (4 performances), Tina Davidson, Pia Gilbert, Betsy Jolas (2 performances) , Barbara Kolb, Thea Musgrave (2 performances), Alizia Terzian, Joan Tower, Judith Weir, and many others, the best of the best of the new crop of a traditionally male dominated field. In this area the MEC is a representative mirror of the culture; later I will take up the other side of the coin: aesthetic representation. In a similar vein but much more true to the original spirit of Morton's MEC, Mark Carlson's Pacific Serenades, a series in full swing since 1987, features a premiere of a newly commissioned chamber work in the company of established pieces from the past with overlapping instrumentation. The series presents four concerts, each performed at a private home and in a public venue, so that each new work gets two performances. With its wide ranging representation- two of the four premieres in 1994 were by women composers, Tania Gabrielle French and Alexandra Pierce- and broad stylistic palette, the series goes far to recreate both the exciting intimacy of the drawing room and concert hall. It also provides a needed alternative to much of the usual fare in other venues.
"The time has come, the walrus said to talk of many things." Having laid out a panoply of musical events that add up to a quantitative picture of Los Angeles in the last generation or two as a Mecca for contemporary music, the time has come to evaluate the repertoire in larger musical and historical terms. The "shoes, ships, and sealing wax" of this discussion must demonstrate what lasting impact all the contemporary world premieres in Los Angeles, beginning with the early days of the Los Angeles Philharmonic after World War II have had on the music world as such. Initially, musical events may reflect cultural changes, like seeing the increased representation by women or minorities on concert programs; but, more importantly the artistic community may go through cycles in which events like concerts or the continuing presence of a performance ensemble actually drive the cultural engine of change and bring about major innovations. In a recent LA Times Article it was reported that teenagers packed the first LA District-sanctioned Gay Prom.11 At least part of the credit for raising the level of gay awareness of the city to allow such an event must be given to groups like the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles. The Chorus, founded in 1979 around the same time as similar orgnizations in New York and Chicago, is just such a case in point: from the beginning of the 1983 season until the present the group has presented premieres of eighteen new works, many by major figures like Ned Rorem. On November, 7, 1987 it presented the California premiere of Shostakovich's "Babi Yar" Symphony, a work with strong political overtones. Many of the newer pieces reflect a social agenda much closer to home: the world premiere of Roger Bourland's Hidden Legacies (Mar. 29, 1992) helped raise awareness of the personal tragedy of AIDS. John Hall's text reflected sentiments of the victims, and the stylistic world of the piece incorporated popular as well as classical elements. Initial critical response in newspapers to this work was devastatingly negative: I will have more on the meaning of this response later.
The Mexican Arts Series at UCLA created a similarly significant venue for the Latino population to reach the artistic population as a whole, although actually the Mexico-California artistic connection had already been well established by the early 40's.12 Founded in 1981, the series attempts to combine music, dance, film, etc. as a reflection of Latino culture. Visiting ensembles like the Cuarteto Latinoamericano, the National Symphony of Mexico (in June, 1988) , and Trio Mexico created a cultural bridge between the countries of Latin America and the Chicano community in Los Angeles. With the opening of the LACMA exhibit, "Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries," on October 6, 1991, a veritable fountain of events (more than 400) brought forth all things Mexican and generated nearly 60 concerts.13 One series of six chamber music concerts, from October 15 to December 29, featured the artistry of the late Manuel Enriquez, the premiere composer of Mexico in a violin recital with Federico Ibarra, composer and pianist (November 21), along with newly commissioned works by Angeleno and Mexican composers (a collateral exhibit of the paintings of eleven 20th-century Mexican women painters was presented at the Iturralde Gallery, December 6-11). Such series often have university affiliation and often reflect the climate of cultural change and innovation within the universities themselves. Although I have concentrated mostly on the most visible public venues, the same social concerns could have been revealed by looking at musical events given by music departments of the major colleges and universities.14
While the sheer volume of information in the form of new artworks, musical compositions, etc. can be a healthy tonic for any society, on the contrary, these same events may propel the cultural engine backwards through ill-conceived choices of repertoire or venue. It would be instructive to put the grand parade into some kind of perspective: artistic worth and cultural worth may not be the same thing, and our perception of the significance of cultural events may be colored by our closeness to them or to our cultural conditioning. Without trying to evaluate the enduring worth of Bourland's Hidden Legacies, it is possible to see that the unfavorable critical response to it was based on a misapprehension of what a "new" piece is supposed to be. Since the work had many of the elements of a populist synthesis, it could not be expected to fulfill the aesthetic guidlines of the avant-garde scenario. The contemporary art historian, Hilton Kramer in 1956 alludes to this special character of the "new" in art:
Thus, the impulse to act as the creative conscience of a usable
tradition was as much
a part of the avant-garde scenario- it was indeed, as I have suggested, its main plot-
as the impulse to wage war on the past, and the artists who aligned their ambition with
this tradition-oriented function faced an infinitely subtler and more difficult task. For "tradition
already had its official guardians, who, armed with an elaborate system of sanctions, were
determined to resist any change that required them to reconsider the precious in-
heritance of their charge. But a constant reconsideration and revaluation of the past
is precisely what the master artists of the avant-garde were forcing upon the official
guardians of taste...to rescue it from moribund conventions...That this effort to place tradition
under the pressure of constant revaluation has an unexpected effect, that it resulted,
in the end, in the virtual dissolutiion of any really viable concept of tradition, is, of course,
at the heart of the situation in which we find ourselves today.15
Thus, we may find that the enormously varied cultural stew that is Los Angeles may be redolent with fulminating aesthetic conflicts and a nagging provincialism left over from earlier "wanna be" comparisons with the New York of the past. It would not be an exaggeration to say that most reviews of new works begin with an evaluation of the degree of novelty in the work, as though that were an essential feature . "The modern movement was always a battlefield on which purists endlessly struggled to expel difference, excess, hybridity and polysemy from their brave new world."16 Clement Greenberg, discussing modern painting, provides a good basis for this attitude: essentially, modernism began as intensely self critical from within so as to distinguish itself from entertainment, which could have absorbed it into a kind of kitsch. .."They looked as tough they were going to be assimilated to entertainment pure and simple, and entertainment itself looked as though it were going to be assimilated, like religion, to therapy. The arts could save themselves from this levelling down only by demonstrating that the kind of experience they provided was valuable in its own right and not to be obtained from any other kind of activity."17 In a musical climate that provides a Harrison Birtwistle premiere in the same week as a Bourland premiere, it is easy for critics to get the jitters and misfire.
I have tried in this article to put all venues for new music on an equal footing, because it is that kind of diverse exposure that truly shows LA to be the next "Paris." That we may be suffering the ill effects of a parvenu past is undeniable, but that a real ethno cultural dialogue is happening may also be undeniable. Some thoughts on a recent heated debate in the "Counterpunch" section of the LA Times Calendar, a debate into which I became an unwitting participant, might clarify the duality of perception of contempory art which is alive and well in LA. The series of volleys began with a diatribe by Claire Rydell in response to an ICA (Independent Composers Association) concert at the Bing Theater (LACMA), April 8, 1994. Rydell blasted the participants, seeing the event as evidence of the "collapse of a refined and subtle classical music culture from past ages." She went on to blame the critics for their tacet approval of the new works through generally good reviews, and Arnold Schoenberg who developed the "dead-end aesthetic." Two weeks later, Burt Goldstein, President of the ICA and a composer with a piece on the concert, fired back, implying that Rydell was merely an accomplice to the apparently reactionary views of Paul Reale, "a well-known professor and composer at UCLA....The opinions about the evils of 20th-Century music in Rydell's article are quite familiar to those of us who, like Rydell and myself [Goldstein] heard Reale's lectures at UCLA in the 70's."
Two days later, Martin Bernheimer, chief music critic of the LA Times, jumped in with his review of a Green Umbrella Concert.20 "I confess. Silly me. My mind did some wandering Monday night at the Japan America Theater.....I kept thinking about a Counterpunch essay that appeared in these pages last week [Rydell's article].." Bernheimer went on to compare Rydell's complaints to the usual rejection to anything new. Examples from bad reviews of music by Puccini, Brahms, et. al. followed a la Nicolas Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective. At that point I [Paul Reale] felt that the score had to be settled: in a "Counterpunch" letter of May 23,21 I explained that 90% of all new music is cast aside by history and that what is needed is music that is well conceived and crafted. Two weeks later stil another article appeared condemning all contemporary music ("Think of classical music as the Latin of musical languages. then you can see why intellectuals like Pierre Boulez write in dead Mesopotamian dialects...").22 The content of these exchanges may be less important than the evidence of a passionate dialogue, much like that found in the London papers of the last century or in Robert Schumann's gibes in the Neue Zeitschrift. By jimminy, contemporary art was truly a viable commodity in Los Angeles. The city of tinsel had truly grown up. We had music representing gays, minorities, women, all styles represented... and we had real controversy: I must be dreaming.
It is no secret that audiences have been dwindling for concerts of new music, but the cause may not be a phobia for the strange or unusual, but rather a cruel joke of technology which allows people to control their entertainment at home ( cynically but appropriately called "Cocooning"). All public venues of the arts have suffered an audience decline, and the bitter memory of the recent demise of the all classical radio station, KFAC-FM is still with us. The aesthetic duality alluded to earlier and sharpened by the "Counterpunch" debate is probably a sign that real maturity is occurring concerning the nature of art in Los Angeles and that citizens are coming to grips with the full impact of the wide variety of artistic events presented here. It is hoped that the kind of "Uptown" vs. "Downtown" polarity that has divided New York City for a generation will not occur here. After all, LA is an awfully big place. My survey has attempted to show the cycles of musical taste as revealed in performances of new music by some of the major venues in Los Angeles. I have also attempted to show how the nature of these events is both a reflection and an implementer of multicultural concerns.
Los Angeles, Spring 1994
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Gordon Theil and Orrin Howard for providing me with archival material from the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Also much thanks to Dorrance Stalvey for allowing me to use the Monday Evening Concerts database , to Roger Bourland for securing a list of Gay Men's Chorus Commissions , to Steven Loza for the programs of the Mexican Arts Series, to Cindy Jansen for information on the Schoenberg Institute and Mark Carlson for programs from Pacific Serenades.
1. Josef Rufer, The Works of Arnold Schoenberg, a catalog transl.
Newlin (London, 1962), PP. 202-203 with all dates of world premieres.
2. Vera Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Stravinsky in Pictures and Documents (New York, 1978), PP. 356-357.
3. Ibid., P. 354 shows it to be a contributing factor for the Stravinsky's to move to LA in April of 1941.
4. Ibid., P. 378.
5. These observations were synthesized from old programs of the concerts.
6. Lawrence Morton, "Music and the Listener" in Monday Evening Concerts 1954-1971 The Lawrence Morton Years, ed. and publ. by Arthur and Herbert Morton (Los Angeles, 1993), P. ix.
7. "James Steele interviews Eric Owen Moss," in Eric Owen Moss Architectural Monograph No. 29 (London, 1993), P. 13.
8. Morton, P. 48.
9. Ibid, P. x.
10. One of the few recent exceptions was a production in the Summer of 1991 of Ian Krouse's Lorca, Child of the Moon at the Theatreteatro. The production featured a largely Latino staff and cast and was sponsored by the Bilingual Foundatioin of the Arts with additional support from the NEA, Atlantic Richfield, and the Spanish Consulate.
11. Michael Quintanilla in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, May 22, 1994, "This is Our Night," Valley Section, B1.
12. Peter Wollen in Raiding the Icebox observes that "It was in California that [Diego] Rivera got his first North American Commissions and where he first met William Valentiner, curator of the Detroit Institute and art expert of the Ford family....It was from California that Edward Weston visited Mexico and returned with the precisionist aesthetic that later fed into Charles Sheeler's photographs of the River Rouge plant in Detroit. And it was two Los Angeles arts students, Jackson Pollack and Philip Guston, who brought the strongest and most specific Mexican influences into United States art of the thirties and forties." (Bloomington and Indianapolis, 1993), P. 194.
13. Suzanne Muchnic in the Los Angeles Times, Thursday, August 22, 1991, Calendar Section, F4.
14. UCLA Wind Ensemble concert, Sunday, March 13, 1994 featuring works by emerging women composers: Mary Lou Newmark, Margaret Hontos, Sung-Wan Cho, Janice Mowery Frey, and Naomi Sekiya based on materials of Elaine Barkin.
15. Hilton Kramer, The Age of the Avant-Garde, An Art Chronicle of 1956-1972 (New York, 1956), P. 12.
16. Wollen, P. 206.
17. Clement Greenberg, "Modernist Painting," in Art in Modern Culture, ed. Frascina and Harris (New York, 1992) from a "Voice of America" broadcast lecture (No. 14) in 1961. After its broadcast, "Modernist Painting" was published in Arts Yearbook, 4, 1961, PP. 101-108.
18.Claire Rydell in the Los Angeles Times, Monday, May 2, 1994 "Composers Milk a Dead-End Aesthetic," Calendar Section, F3.
19. Burt Goldstein in the LA Times, Monday, May 16, 1994, "New Music Merits Respect, Not Attack," Calendar Section, F3.
20. Martin Bernheimer Music Review in the Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, May 18, 1994, "Modern Progress Under Salonen's Green Umbrella," Calendar Section, F2.
21. Paul Reale in a "Counterpunch" letter to the LA Times, Monday, May 23, 1994, "In Support of Well-Conceived Music-Old and New," Calendar Section, F2.
22. Philip Blackmarr in a "Counterpunch" reply , Monday, June 6, 1994, "Classical Music Tapped Out," Calendar Section F2. Many other letters were published with briefer and less creative statements (e.g Matthew Lawrence Hetz on June 20, 1994 in the same section).