I had one of those great concert-going experiences last night with John Adams. He's good at those. It was a night of his music for the Green Umbrella new music concert series; the LAPhil is doing a lot of his work in honor of his 60th birthday. One of the nice things about last night's concert was his conducting of it. He's an energetic conductor, and the whole evening felt that much more special as a result of his leading the orchestra.
There were three pieces performed. The first was a short piano piece called China Gates, which was an elegant start by Joanne Pierce Martin (always fun to watch). The second piece was Gnarly Buttons, which had some really engaging moments, including a cow's moo, that got a chuckle out of the audience.
The highlight, though, was Grand Pianola Music. And it was most definitely grand. It was the obvious crowd-pleaser of the evening, and rightly so. The anchors of the piece were the two open, amplified pianos at the center of the stage, played with great rigor by Martin and Vicki Ray (who I especially liked because she looked just the slightest bit like Chrissie Hynde). When the piece started there was a guy with a couple of elementary-aged kids whispering and talking softly to the boys, directing them to things to look at; it was mildly distracting at first, but once I realized what was going on ("Look at the piano! See how the hammers are going?" etc.) I found it all kind of charming. I was so relieved nobody quieted them down. They were well-enough behaved and it was all about the music, so why bother being stuffy? Besides, it's a new music series! No stuffy allowed!
It's hard to describe what happens when I respond to classical music at these concerts. I always enjoy going with JW, but my mind often wanders, and I engage intermittently. I like most of the stuff we hear, rarely hearing anything I think is truly awful , and often it's paired with something I really enjoy (see same hyperlink), but the truly transcendant musical experiences I have there are rare. It doesn't mean I don't admire and adore the LAPhil, because I would champion the variety and progressiveness of its programming, as well as its consistency, to anyone who would listen, but usually it's a handful of concerts a year that really involve me throughout. It's for the best, because I'd value the experience less, I'm sure. Grand Pianola Music was one of those experiences. Gorgeous and riveting. You can find it on itunes if you're curious. Check it out.
Oh, and Peter Sellars was in our section last night, which helped make the whole evening kind of a higher-brow, more satisfying version of the musical evening I had on Monday with Ben Stiller and Dreamgirls. Except Stiller is a much better dresser.