Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Fascinatin' Polyrhythms, Inadequate Marketing

The glories of season tickets. Buy once, enjoy intermittently for months to come.

Last night, for example, the L.A. Phil's Green Umbrella New Music series brought an awe-inspiring percussion program to Disney Hall, where a not-quite-full house kept the coughing and shuffling to a merciful minimum in the face of giant marimbas, solo snare drum sorcery, and hypnocussion.

I've said I won't review music on this blog, which is lucky for you and me both, because if I did I'd just rhapsodize for pages about how much I enjoyed the entire program. Evelyn Glennie, the sprightly, barefoot Scotswoman who bestrides the world of serious percussion, was gracious and funny when addressing the house but spellbinding leading an ensemble and then soloing, first on a marimba and then on a snare drum.

About that snare: Standing on the stage's rearmost riser with just the one drum and no sheet music, Glennie performed "Prim," a meditation by Icelander Askell Masson on the first 16 prime numbers. I was less than captivated at first -- "ho-hum, a long drum solo," I thought -- but as she warmed to her task and the pace quickened and the rhythms grew both more direct and more difficult, she took on a witchy aspect. Two spotlights conjured shadows that replicated her (as shadows do) bending lower and lower over her drum, her cauldron, her hypnotic sticks and skins. And the beats grew still faster. K leaned over and whispered something about the shadows and "MacBeth"'s weird sisters. Had plumes of smoke risen from the snare or even her hair no one would have blinked. By the time the piece stuttered to a grudging stop, the entire hall was as focused as if she'd performed brain surgery. Whew. I think we all wanted a cigarette.

Another leading light of modern percussion, Steven Schick, had to follow that opus with Xenakis' "Rebonds," a piece played on drums and wood blocks. Also amazing. He was unique among the performers (six in all) for the full-body zip and elan he brought to his work. OK, enough non-reviewing. But I'll note in an exceedingly lowbrow and trivializing way that in the final third of the final piece, Lang's "the so-called laws of nature," Schick and three members of his red fish blue fish ensemble drummed up a precise, obsessive, almost synthetic sound playing flowerpots and dishes with what looked like bright red chopsticks.

Given the immediately likable and fun sounds of modern percussion, its many sonic similarities to popular electronica, and the youth of many of the performers, the hall's failure to fill looks like a direct result of inadequate marketing. Tonight's Shostakovich program, for example, appeals to a relatively fixed number of potential ticket-buyers. The same could be said for many previous Green Umbrella programs that were more purely cerebral in nature. But what better opportunity to lure a new crowd to Disney Hall than with a bunch of attractive youngish people hitting things with sticks? I'm not aware of the outreach the LA Phil put into promoting last night's show, but I know at least a dozen people who would have been just as delighted as we were, had someone tapped them on the shoulder last week via radio or alternative PR and said, "Hey. You might like this."

And a final note, linking the Cinnabar Serenade to today's percussive post, we ran into Flame (see below) outside as we left the venue. See? L.A. really is like a small town sometimes.


No comments: