Los Angeles Concert Review: MUSE/IQUE, UNCORKED: EBONY MEETS IVORY (Pasadena Civic Auditorium)

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by Tony Frankel on April 4, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles


Attending a huge array of theater and concerts is akin to a slot machine: the entertainment equivalent to three cherries does exist out there, but a huge amount of time, money and effort can be spent with little guarantee of a return on your investment – the amount of blanks and lemons out there can be enervating. Still, the search continues because we all know what it feels like to experience the clanging bells and whistles of a jackpot.

In perusing the press releases of hundreds of upcoming plays and concerts, I came across one announcing the inaugural season of MUSE/IQUE – A New Orchestra With a Point of View: seven one-night events will take place under the Artistic Direction of former Pasadena Pops conductor Rachael Worby – four are under the banner of UNCORKED, and three are simply titled “summer events.”

Immediately dismissing it as an oddly-named, esoteric succession of weird concerts, I became intrigued while reading that the UNCORKED events are unscripted and unrehearsed in unexpected settings where one can “experience the arts intimately and mischievously, leaving the worlds of pomp and circumstance and rows of seats far behind.”

Further quotes piqued my curiosity: “A journey to intimately rediscover music:” “Anything can happen, but it can only happen once.” “Bold performances, open discussion and fearless exploration.” Plus, the night starts with a celebratory party – on a Monday night?

With trepidations and a shoulder-shrug, I walked through the “artist’s entrance” of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for Ebony Meets Ivory and now thrillingly report that I discovered the elusive triple-cherry jackpot. Admittedly, this was a one-time shot, but based on the assemblage of transplendent talent, curator Rachael Worby’s historical annotations, and a wide-ranging selection of music and spoken word, MUSE/IQUE immediately established itself as an accessibly modern Salon des Artistes, appropriate for any social and economic class.

Ebony Meets Ivory was a time-traveling exploration of the world’s most cherished instrument – the piano. The visionary Ms. Worby led the evening – or should I say conducted – with the intellectualism of a professorial musicologist, the grace of a seasoned actress, and the propriety of a schoolmarm. Three grand pianos sat centered on the Auditorium stage and the audience (which, for UNCORKED events, will always be limited to 300) intimately sat around and near the instruments for an up-close look at the engineering feat of hammer, string and pedal.

To start, pop-culture analyst/writer/performer Sandra Tsing Loh recited an Ogden Nash poem about Chopsticks, after which she joined her daughter to play the famous piece (known to drive parents to the brink) with abandon and requisite silliness. (Actually titled The Celebrated Chop Waltz, the tune which would become Carmichael’s Heart and Soul was a one-hit wonder written in 1877 by Euphemia Allen, a British 16-year-old girl, under the pseudonym Arthur de Lulli.)

From there, the evening was a series of highlights: Worby fascinatingly expounded on the polyphonic compositions of Bach before Caltech professor Julia Greer, whose research focuses on nano-scale phenomena, demonstrated a piece consisting of independent melodic voices; Bryan Pezzone played a Bach fugue based on Beatles’ music, and then improvised We Shall Overcome in the style of Beethoven, alternating between Romantic, stride, Classical, and syncopated Ragtime; Markus Pawlik validated the occurrence of the fan frenzy known as Lisztomania; and Kirk Wilson, whose jazzy concoctions conjured up the chi of Coltrane, made riffing look easy.

How about Ravel for four hands, Rachmaninoff for six hands (on one piano!), and the pièce de résistance, a twelve-hand arrangement of Stars and Stripes Forever?

My personal favorite was the only piece I had never heard before. First, Worby explained that during World War II in Nazi-occupied Warsaw, Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski and his fellow composer Andrzej Panufnik managed to support themselves as musicians by playing piano in Warsaw cafés (all organized gatherings, including concerts, had been banned). Of the hundreds of arrangements that Lutosławski and Panufnik had worked on for their piano duos, the only piece which survived that time was Lutosławski’s astounding 1941 composition for two pianos, Variations on a Theme of Paganini.

Then the two-piano team of Gavin Martin and his wife Joanne Pearce Martin (Los Angeles Philharmonic’s keyboardist) executed the most unblemished, virtuosic exhibition of pianism I have ever seen up close. This, to me, is what the evening was all about.

Worby explained in an interview, “Duke Ellington said there are two types of music in this world: great music and the other kind. Whether it’s gospel, jazz, classical Western, non-Western classical, musical theater or film – if it’s great, we want to use it.”

And you should see it. The next concert on April 9, 2012, will be at the Autry National Center in Griffith Park. Actress Wendie Malick and songwriter Michael Martin will be on hand for a magical mix of film clips, poems, fairytales, songs and dances of the American West. Jackpot!

UNCORKED: Ebony Meets Ivory
Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena
played on March 19, 2012
the 2012 season, which plays until November 12, includes free community concerts;
for info on MUSE-IQUE’s season and tickets, call 626.539.7085 or visit Muse/ique

{ 1 comment }

Warren Martin April 5, 2012 at 9:25 am

Excellent review. I was able to relive the entire Muse/ique experience.

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