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Laurie Niles

December 21, 2004 at 7:23 AM

I can't really remember the last time I actually attended a concert. Isn't this a shame? But I'm so busy teaching, playing and throwing Christmas cookie parties (okay, that was Sunday, it's only once a year) that I very rarely find the time to sit on my duff and watch other people play.

Nonetheless, after I had baked some 100 cookies on Saturday for the aforementioned bash the following day, I set out to...drum a concert! I went with some friends to the Southwest Chamber Music concert in Pasadena at the Norton Simon Museum Theater. I'm happy to say, this appears, from my one experience, to be a bastion of well-performed chamber music, with good thought put into the programming.

I went on the invite of my friend, Lorenz Gamma, who was playing the solo part for Vivaldi's Four Season's. I did not even know what I was going to see, just that I was going to see Lorenz! Anyway, “The Seasons” was the theme for the entire evening.

It began with something far from Vivaldi, a little surprise for those who may have come just for the very popular work; a pleasant surprise for me. It was an aleatoric 20th century piece, “The Seasons” by Toru Takemitsu. I am glad to see a group that does not shy away from performing such pieces.

The work was meant to be performed with some electronic devices, but due to some technical difficulties, they had to do it completely acoustically. They used high school students, positioned both on stage and on either of the balcony, who rapped with deliberation on various exotic percussion instruments while several speakers recited the weather forecast from different times of the year in several languages.

I was amused that they were reading the weather forecasts from Southern California, which to me a place with barely discernable “seasons”! But I guess one must adapt the piece to its environment. It was clinky and confusing and not altogether unpleasant; certainly evocative of the changing winds of time and season. Well performed, too.

The next piece, Thea Musgrave's “From Spring to Spring,” for solo marimba, proved to me that it doesn't matter the instrument, a true musician can mesmerize an audience with anything. Even a kazoo. Or, in this case, a marimba. Lynn Vertan, with a streak of rebel red in her bleach blond hair, played this piece with fine-tuned sensitivity, precision and energy, everything that makes music fascinating. Yes, here is a real musician, making a really odd piece, scored for an instrument not usually featured solo, absolutely spellbinding.

As the father of one of my Suzuki students said at intermission, “That was totally cool.” And he is not a musician, not at all. His six-year-old girl concurred, “Yeah, that was cool.”

Cool. Twentieth century music lives!

But of course, I was there to see my friend play Vivaldi, and the way he played it, it was worth the whole ticket. I've certainly witnessed this piece played badly enough times. In fact, I believe I was in on several high school performances of that variety....

One forgets, with the ubiquitous nature of this piece, that it is quite virtuosic. This group played it with just one member of each section, and they were a tight band. They played it with so much good thought behind it, such solid interpretation. It was a delight to behold. My friend, Lorenz, is such an artist. Really. It makes me feel better about life just to know people like this, who truly love music and give it their full effort, with heart and mind.

From Ben Clapton
Posted on December 21, 2004 at 4:07 PM
"... who truly love music and give it their full effort, with heart and mind."

I'd hope that that would be almost everyone on this board.

Sounds like you had a great time Laurie. Merry Christmas, and any chance of getting your christmas cookie recipe?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on December 21, 2004 at 5:44 PM
The recipe is nothing too exciting, just the sugar cookie recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. The key is to keep shaking flour all over everything; I was completely covered with the stuff by the end!

I will give you one fabulous recipe for a holiday treat, though:

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