Los Angeles Music Preview: MINIMALIST JUKEBOX FESTIVAL (presented by LA Phil)

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by Tony Frankel on April 4, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


Minimalism. The very notion of this form of music can send some musical lovers running for the hills, while others see it the most exciting and wholly refreshing form of music in the world today. The Los Angeles Philharmonic is presenting an opportunity for you to decide for yourself. Through May 4, LA Phil and partner presenters will offer one of the most stunning arrays of works possible as part of the Minimalist Jukebox Festival. The series began in earnest with Kraftwerk’s 3-D Concerts back in March at Disney Hall, followed by Long Beach Opera’s production 1003584_10151925733411610_358432254_nof John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer, but the Festival truly slams into our city beginning this week. With almost 30 presentations to choose from, Stage and Cinema offers some highlights.

I spoke with Chad Smith, LA Phil’s Vice President of Artistic Planning, who is responsible for the artistic oversight and coordination of all LA Phil programming. “The Festival is a way to look at this trend born about 50 years ago, and to notice the seismic repercussions it has had on so many different aspects of our musical life.” For example, Kraftwerk, inspired by minimalism, has influenced electronic dance music that is still the prevailing style in pop music and dance clubs. While minimalism continues to stretch the boundaries of music, at a rudimentary level the style includes consonant harmony, a steady pulse (or even immobile drones), stasis or gradual transformation, and often reiteration of musical phrases or smaller units such as figures, motifs, and cells.

You can find saturated details in Fact Magazine’s A Brief History of Minimalism, but the revolution that began in the early 1960s as an underground scene in San Francisco, New York, and right here in Los Angeles reinvented harmony, pulse, and structure, permeating much of the music we hear today. Smith believes it is minimalism-because less is moreimpossible to downplay minimal music: “It is the single most important classical music trend born in the United States, bar none.”

John Adams, one of America’s most admired and respected composers and LA Phil Creative Chair, echoes Smith: “Over the past 40 years Minimalism has brought about a revolution in aesthetic sensibilities, changing the way we experience the flow of musical time and the feel of its rhythm. It has not only revitalized harmony and enabled composers to once again think big thoughts, but it has seen its influence felt in genres as far afield as rock, electronic, and film scoring.”

Diva Meow MeowSmith maintains that it takes aspects of the ways we live our lives and makes it into a musical landscape. “Minimalism can become one of the colors that composers can use, like an artist who uses different brushstrokes. When Terry Riley created In C [presented at the Hammer by The Industry on April 5], he brought the idea of joy into routine, making it beautiful. Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is like a series of waves crashing along an ocean, each different and representing a cycle in our lives.” Naturally, a minimalist piece can be written by a composer not self-defined as such.

Wild UpMinimalism was born of “a post-war aesthetic; a very academic approach to music,” Smith notes. “This includes the dodecaphonic [relating to, composed in, or consisting of twelve-tone music], the aleatoric [using or consisting of sounds to be chosen by the performer or left to chance], and the atonal. It simultaneously had a more random approach to composition and this very rigorous side to classical music; it took hold and became the prevailing style in U.S. academies and universities.”

Conductor John AdamsThis new style of music had a very divisive effect on the audiences: “A large segment disconnected from contemporary music because it was so unrelated to more familiar music with its rhythms and a sense of propulsion and structure based on 400 years of harmonic language. But a segment of the population, almost in a scientific way, really appreciated and understood this music.”

demotivation.us_BE-A-MINIMALIST-Its-the-least-you-can-do_136775833876Minimalism as a pure musical movement only lasted about six or seven years (which holds true for other American musical inventions: Ragtime, Disco, Classic Rock, etc.), and then it started to become a tool which composers used as they expressed their own unique voices. Smith defines the beginnings as Minimalism 1.0, which includes Terry Reilly, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich in the 60s and 70s. Then there is Minimalism 2.0, which includes artists Julia Wolfe, Michael Gordon, and David Lang, all of whom are part of Bang on a Can, a multi-faceted performing arts organization with a broad range of year-round international activities. Finally, there is Minimalism 3.0, which includes young composers who use minimalism in a different way, such as Missy Mazzoli (whose Sinfonia (for Orbiting Spheres) will see its world premiere by the LA Phil New Music Group on April 8) and Andrew Nathaniel McIntosh (whose Silver and White (2012) will be on the same program).

I'm not lazy, I'm a minimalist.Smith continues: “The further you get away from the magical beginnings when this new thing was born, the more we can see the halo effect: it influences what an artist does, but it doesn’t define them.” There are two programs which Smith considers the “guide to minimalism.” That includes the April 8 three-hour marathon concert entitled Green Umbrella Maximum Minimalism, which gives a truly amazing overview of both the “big players” and the “current advocates for this style.” This concert is especially wonderful for anyone who is simply interested in what’s happening in the music world today. Along with three Steve Reich pieces and Mazzoli’s Sinfonia, there will be yet another world premiere: Awake the Machine Electric by sound designer, engineer, and composer Mark Grey. Performers include the Los Angeles contemporary music ensemble, wild Up, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), and the amazing Calder Quartet. The program will be conducted by none other than John Adams himself.

Katia & Marielle LabèqueAnother broad overview concert, Minimalist Dream House, will be headlined by the great French piano duo Katia & Marielle Labèque on April 9. They have put together a broad survey of the genre from a keyboard perspective in three 40-minute sets: Proto- and post-minimalists, Europeans and Experimentalists, and transcriptions of Rock ‘n’ Rollers, including Suicide, Aphex Twin, and Radiohead, all of whom have incorporated minimalism into their work. This concert is terrific for people who want to learn more about this movement and its impacts.

Organist Cameron CarpenterWe’re all in for a big surprise when Terry Riley, considered to be one of the founding fathers of the Minimalist Movement, will have his composition At the Royal Majestic receive its world premiere beginning April 11. With that renegade Cameron Carpenter on the Disney Hall organ, which Riley nicknamed “Hurricane Mama,” the program will include the U.S. premiere of Michael Gordon’s Sunshine of Your Love, and John Adams’ immensely popular Naive and Sentimental Music.

Whatever you choose to see, there is nothing minimal about this all-encompassing festival.

Minimalist Jukebox Festival
presented by Los Angeles Philharmonic
and partner presenters
programs scheduled through May 4, 2014
for info and tickets, call 323.850.2000 or visit www.LAPhil.com

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