Since I didn’t make it to Amelia Cuni’s John Cage recital, I’ll catch up on the other concerts last month.
L.A. Phil, 10/6. Berio’s 2001 orchestration of Bach’s Contrapunctus 19 was nuanced rather than grand, and ended with a disconcertingly stinging surprise. Likewise, Strauss’s Metamorphosen doesn’t really grip you till the last three notes, but those are killers. After the interval they did Beethoven’s 7th which was a wow.
Green Umbrella, 10/9. AD & I turned out to have the most incredible power seats: next to the Music Director, behind the present and past Presidents and the critic from the Times, and in front of Alan Rich of the Weekly. Saarriaho’s Six Japanese Gardens for solo percussionist. It was fascinating to watch Steven Schick make his way through all that equipment. But Jean-Baptiste Barriere’s videos—why would you look at that when you have a live musician to watch? From reading the program notes I had expected Saariaho’s Graal Theatre to be some dreamy Enya fog. Quite the contrary. Jennifer Koh began with violent screeching and never let up. It was a phenomenal in extremis provocation. Though the evening was devoted to Saarriaho, I was really there to hear Piccola Musica Notturna by Dallapiccola. I was beside myself with excitement at finally getting to hear some Dallapiccola live. “I used to hear a lot of Dallapiccola when I was in New York,” AR remarked to his assistant. It was hesitant, somber, delicate. Italian Debussy, but then there come violent bits that make you jump.
L.A. Opera, 10/13. Janacek’s Jenufa. Act 1, despite being agreeably brisk, was all-too fin-de-last-siecle: impulsive heroine, intimidating matriarch, dissipated lover and earnest lover, comic drinking songs. But Act 2 was something else. The mother and her weak, drugged daughter. But if the first act was the bad end of the 19th century, the second act took place in the promising start of the 20th. The mother’s increasingly hysterical arias sounded like one of Schoenberg’s stage madwomen. The PR campaign had instructed us to make much of Karita Mattila’s perfection in the role of Jenufa—and she was perfect--, but Eva Urbanova as her mother, Kostelnicka, stole the show. She has the better music.
Pomerium at the Getty, 10/20. Their voices were excellent; the program was choice: de Lassus, Des Pres, Byrd, Tallis. They even sang bits from the manuscripts in the accompanying exhibition of medieval scores--Lovely, but that stuff’s meant to accompany of service and without a service going on, it loses something, no matter how musically fine it is. The performers were also a motley crew, who acted up on stage. One tenor kept trying to peer over the music of the soprano next to him, as of he was terrifically fascinated and wanted to see what was coming next.
Inside the theater we realized, We have Pogues to go before we sleep. First there was a white Blues singer (“This is a song about slowly killing yourself.”), then Ollin, from East L.A., who engagingly mixed rock, rap, mariachi, big band, klezmer: “Kid Creole and the Chile Peppers.” Then the Clash’s “Straight to Hell” boomed out at us. You know:
If you can play on the fiddle How’s about a British jig and reel? Speaking the King’s English in quotation …
The Pogues began with a noisy and unintelligible “Streams of Whiskey,” got better as the evening went on, so that by the last encore, when they came out with Ollin to do “Fiesta,” they were sublime.
Who goes to a Pogues concert in L.A.? The nice deco lobbies of the Wiltern were littered with a crowd even more motley than usual in L.A.: frat boys, teenagers dressed in punk uniforms of their parent’s era, Celtic Pride types (seniors to teenagers), Sikhs, Korean girls, Goths, a woman in a preposterously tall fur hat, and 40ish fans that probably knew all the words to all the songs.
Is Shane MacGowan really as trashed as he seems? He stumbled off stage frequently, returning with beverages, so that at the end his microphone stand was ringed with cups and bottles. He kept dropping his cigarette, which more fire-conscious band mates would hand back to him. “He’s probably a bit lit, but I doubt he’s really that drunk. It’s an act.” Certainly nobody else acted drunk—they couldn’t, they were working too hard. Oh, there’s a novelty—a drunken Irish wreck being the attraction.
Can Shane MacGowan sing? He has a compelling, raspy roar—he delivers syllables in all-caps headlines, blunt and loud—but he’s absurdly inarticulate. The band needed supertitles projected above the stage, like an opera. The often well-turned lyrics (when looked up later) come as a surprise.
Are they punk at all? Like most worthwhile punk bands, they do more than just nihilism, irony and a screw-you sound. They are aggressive, but not especially dark. They deploy nihilism and irony, but also have other moods: resigned, bemused, embittered, and sweetly sentimental. They are particularly good at a compound of weepy nostalgia and self-conscious disdain:
I sat for a while by the gap in the wall Found a rusty tin can and an old hurley ball Heard the cards being dealt, and the rosary called And a fiddle playing Sean Dun Na nGall
Which is followed by
For it’s stupid to laugh and useless to bawl About a rusty tin can and an old hurly ball So I walked as day was dawning Where small birds sang and leaves were falling Where we once watched the row boats landing By the broad, majestic Shannon.
And what could be sweeter than that? And what's the Irish for "Day of the Dead"?