Wednesday, January 11, 2006

In which David says Good Riddance to Bad Acoustics

I traveled to the Leo S. Bing Theater of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Monday to attend a Monday Evening Concert. It was a performance by the chamber ensemble Xtet - which I helped create 20 years ago.

It will be the last time I'll ever make the drive to that concert hall. The Museum is kicking the Monday Evening Concerts out.

It's a good thing, because the Bing Theater is a dismal place to hear chamber music. Over the last thirty years I've often been a performer or a listener there. It has dreary acoustics. It has a dark and dreary atmosphere. Plus there is a dark, dreary and cheerless proscenium arch security fence between performers and audience. No college auditorium could be any worse a venue.

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When you hear someone at the MONDAY EVENING CONCERTS say "Good crowd tonight." they mean about one third of the seats are filled. What the MEC lacks in excitement it makes up for in sad venerability earned years ago from the presence of some internationally famous composers (the ones who fled European politics seeking warm weather.) Even today the best argument given by MEC apologists is the number of world premieres of gnarly late-period compositions by Igor Stravinsky. (Hey, wasn't that was like 40 years ago?)

Moving the Monday Evening to some college campus, however, would just reinforce its academic dullness. That would be wrong.

Monday Evening Concerts needs some fresh young blood, a new direction and a kick in the pants, if I may mix my metaphors. I think a lot of people are hoping the concerts move to Zipper Hall downtown. That would brighten things up. Maybe other aspects of the series can brighten up as well.

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Although our local media has been quaintly linking the fate of XTET with that of the Monday Evening series (and there's no reason the relationship shouldn't continue), I do hope my friends in XTET will use this moment to try something new of its own.

XTET plays difficult music superbly well and they deserve far greater recognition than has come their way. It has been more than 10 years since I dropped out, so my opinion may have lost weight (at least as much as I've gained during that time.)

Listening to their concert Monday reminded me why I dropped out. Also of why the top of this blog says "Life's too short to listen to ugly music."

XTET should have a bigger audience. It deserves supportive concert producers to work with. And it needs an affluent active board of directors willing to pull strings and open doors. These things would allow a lot more passion and zeal and sheer virtuosity to spill out. There are other independent groups in LA who seem to have managed this trick.

But it's difficult to create much excitement and enthusiasm when you hang an entire program around two highly technical, long, difficult, dissonant, pedantic period pieces (one from the 70s and one from the 80s, both filled with a catalog of 2006 musical cliches). These works were essays in all the things I've come to hate about contemporary music. They overwhelmed the most easily accessible piece on the program - making it seem like a stowaway from a faraway planet.

The program would have had better balance and accessibility if one of the large pieces had been replaced with music from a different time or place, something to provide variety of style and attitude. An underplayed historical 20th century work perhaps? Some aggressive challenging Post-Minimal assault-piece?


In my imagination, had the Museum not terminated its relationship with the Monday Evening Concerts, the series would continue virtually unchanged far into the otherwise unforeseeable future. Xtet would play gnarly music there every season. Some people do really seem to have enjoyed this particular combination of location, programming and attitude. Just not very many people. Those people probably think adding more spirit to the proceedings would ruin them.

And I don't have suggestions for how to kick start this situation. I tried for a long time to do something similar and I eventually gave up. To repeat a phrase I heard once "This is not the field on which I wish to fight the battles of my life." But I do continue to have a fondness for new and meaningful chamber music and I wish the genre and my friends who still participate in it well.

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