Postcard from London: The Gospel Truth

Last year, at the world premiere of John Adams’ passion-oratorio “The Gospel According to the Other Mary,” I wrote an extensive review. At the time, I said I was “less interested” in seeing how Peter Sellars would stage the work in the future, than I was simply excited to hear the music again. Turns out, I should have been more excited to see Sellars’ staging. It was vivid, yet minimal. It was transparent. And it helped connect the libretto together.

At the premiere a year ago, I wrote the audience retention rate at Walt Disney Concert Hall was about 70%. A year later, the work is a bit shorter (Adams cut some scenes), and Adams bumbed up some of the tempos. At the Barbican Centre Saturday night, the audience retention rate was close to 100%. (One couple near where I was sitting got up at a particularly conspicuous time and clattered out of the hall, never to return.)

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Postcard from London: Discover Dudamel

Yesterday was a moment several months in the making for the 10 traveling musicians from YOLA (Youth Orchestra LA). It’s why they wrote two essays, gave an interview, and played an audition just for the opportunity to come on this trip to London. Yesterday was the rehearsal and performance of the Discover Dudamel orchestra at the Barbican Centre, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel himself.

Dudamel bounded on stage, a bundle of energy even though he had just come from an interview that went late and had barely had time to grab a snack for lunch. He surveyed the large group of mostly high-school age kids, paused to count the number players in the flute section, “How many?” He asked. “Six flutes? I love this: Venezuelan-style,” referring to the giant orchestras of several hundred he has conducted countless times with El Sistema.

“Okay, let’s play,” Dudamel said quickly, and raised his arms for the downbeat of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet Fantasy-Overture. But there was an impish look in his eye. He turned to the concertmaster and asked, “Romeo and Juliet?” She nodded. “Prokofiev, right?” Dudamel said. “No, Berlioz?” Giggling from the orchestra. “Oh…I remember,” Dudamel said, grinning. “Tchaikovsky.”

Downbeat.

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Postcard from London: A Candy Conclave

In addition to the music-making here in London, the LA Phil is hosting a symposium about music education. They’ve put together an orchestra comprised of students from all over Great Britain, plus ten members of the LA Phil’s own Youth Orchestra LA—or YOLA. It’s called the Discover Dudamel Orchestra. Last night, the young musicians met one another for the first time. Later today, they’ll rehearse and perform with Gustavo Dudamel at the Barbican Centre.

So, naturally, the kids had to get to know each other very quickly. And they did so with the help of Skittles. The orchestra gathered in groups of 3-4, they were given a handful of Skittles, and depending on which colors they had, answered different questions about themselves.

Then, it was down to business. Rehearsing Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet, which they’ll play for Gustavo Dudamel later this afternoon.

They sound pretty damn good, wouldn’t you say? And they can’t wait to meet Gustavo in a couple hours.

Postcard from London: The Music of the Future

On KUSC today, you’ll hear me mention an ensemble called Future Band. Future Band is a group of a couple dozen musicians, ages 8-14, from all over London. The ensemble has no set instrumentation, the members write their own music, and it is open to just about anyone. Future Band meets during school vacation periods for several days of intensive rehearsal…and they often perform here at the Barbican Centre. The philosophy is, basically, that creative expression in music should not be bound by the strict rules of one particular style of music.

Last night, Future Band performed at the symposium that the LA Phil and Barbican Centre are hosting called “Future Play: Music Systems in the 21st Century.” Here is a bit from that performance.

This morning, the always-provocative Peter Sellars spoke about activism in music education. I’ll have more thoughts from his talk later here on the blog, but just to whet your appetite, here are a couple quotes from Sellars today:

“Arts organizations are my favorite fascist structures. At a musuem, you see only what the curator wants you to see. An orchestra conductor only lets you hear what he wants you to hear. Nothing else. It’s exclusively top down.”

“Equality is not based in sameness. Equality can only exist in our differences.”

That’s vintage Peter Sellars.

Arrival in London

Greetings from London! After a long, bumpy flight–complete with a two-hour line for a manual check-in with handwritten boarding passes (ask me about that later when I’m not grumpy)–I, along with 10 YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles) musicians, ages 14-16 arrived in London town this morning. We were immediately greeted by something quite familiar to us Angelenos…and something quite unfamiliar to us: traffic and snow. Here’s proof:

After arriving at our hotel, which is a hop, skip, and a jump from the Barbican Centre, I grabbed sandwiches, a quick interview with the LA Phil’s Director of Educational Initiatives Gretchen Nielsen, and put together our first Postcard from London, which you heard on KUSC today. (We have nothing if not quick turnaround times.)

Then, it was off to the opening panel discussion of the symposium Future Play: Music Systems in the 21st Century. Co-hosted by the LA Phil and the Barbican Centre, this is a quite a gathering of arts luminaries, from the heads of the world’s major orchestras (LA Phil, London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, many many others). In this photo, Sir Nicholas Kenyon (Managing Director of the Barbican Centre) was joined by Deborah Borda; LSO Managing Director Kathryn McDowell; Simon Reining, General Director of the Concertgebouw; and Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music.

They introduced some of the concepts up for discussion in the symposium as the week progresses (for example: the tension between the artistic integrity of an organization versus its social activism responsibility). To me, it was just amazing to see so many of these VIPs gathered in one place, with time and determination to tackle some of these major challenges in music education. More on that to come.

Tomorrow, it’s a busy day at the symposium, plus I’ll be hanging out with the YOLA musicians once again as they rehearse for their big presentation later this week. Then, it’s off to a Green Umbrella concert at the Barbican with Gustavo Dudamel conducting members of the LA Phil in music by John Adams, principal timpanist Joseph Pereira, and Unsuk Chin. 21st century music. Just business as usual at the LA Phil.