Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We've Moved!

We've got a new name and a new look. Please visit us at http://CultureSpotLA.com.

Thanks for all your support, and I look forward to seeing you at Culture Spot LA.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What's in Your Weekend?

Museums of the Arroyo: See six museums for one great price: free! On May 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., visit the Heritage Square Museum, Gamble House (pictured), Los Angeles Police Historical Museum, Lummis Home and Garden, Pasadena Museum of History and Autry National Center’s Southwest Museum of the American Indian during Museums of the Arroyo Day, a celebration of culture now in its 20th year.

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: LACO presents the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis' "Radiant Mind" and performs Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor featuring pianist Jonathan Biss, De Falla's "Ritual Fire Dance" from "El Amor Brujo," and Ginastera's "Variaciones Concertantes" on May 16 at the Alex Theatre and on May 17 at UCLA's Royce Hall.

L.A. Theatre Works: L.A. Theatre Works wraps up a 22-city national tour of a sci-fi double bill featuring H. G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" and Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World," directed by Star Trek veteran John de Lancie, at the Skirball Cultural Center May 13 through 17 . All performances are recorded to air on LATW's syndicated radio theater series, which broadcasts weekly on 89.3 KPCC.

Intimate Opera: The final two performances of "La Tragedie de Carmen" are May 16 and 17 at the intimate Gold Room at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. The show is an adaptation of George Bizet's opera by English stage director Peter Brook, along with composer Marius Constant and playwright Jean-Claude Carrière. It's 80 minutes long and features four singers and a 14-piece orchestra.

Musica Angelica: The baroque orchestra pays homage to Hadyn's 200th as well as Mozart and Juan Bautista Sancho May 16 in downtown LA and May 17 in Santa Monica.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Playloop and NextAid Fundraiser

Playloop, an innovative electronic record label, is hosting a fundraiser for the eighth annual international World AIDS Orphans Day on Thursday, May 7, from 8:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. at King King in Hollywood. Funds raised will benefit NextAid, an LA-based non-profit organization that raises funds for sustainable solutions for the African AIDS orphan pandemic through dance music events.

The 21+ event brings together electronic music legend John Tejada of Palette Recordings, Playloop/PEX artists Dave Hughes, Justin Paul and Lee Mayjahs?,
plus special performances by ArcheDream for HUMANKIND. There will also be an art auction from 8:30 to 10 p.m. For information about all artist and the art auction, visit www.playlooplist.com.

Proceeds from the auction, as well as $2 from every $15 presale general admission ticket, will go toward the NextAid World AIDS Orphans Day Fund. Advance ticketholders will get exclusive Playloop MP3s. VIP ticketholders ($50) will also get the free downloads, plus a Playloop Music CD and access to the Playloop VIP Area where free drinks will be served. Twenty dollars from every VIP ticket will be contributed to the NextAid World AIDS Orphans Day Fund.

Specifically, a portion of the profits from this event will go to the NextAid/Youth With a Vision Community Center and Children’s Residential Village in Dennilton, South Africa, which will provide a multi-purpose center for the greater community and an ecological children’s center that will serve as a safe home for 50 children orphaned by AIDS. Learn more at www.nextaid.org.

King King, 6555 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, 90028, (323) 960-5765, www.kingkinghollywood.com
Event information line: (215) 833-7133
Tickets: http://playloop.ticketleap.com

Have Fun, Help Others

Be entertained and support a good cause by attending Union Station Homeless Services’ 35th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, May 9, at the California Club. A reception begins at 6 p.m. The festivities continue at 7 p.m. with dinner, live and silent auctions, and live music.

The hosts for the evening are actors Adam Arkin and Jane Kaczmarek, a San Gabriel Valley resident who is very active in the non-profit community. Grammy Award winner Debby Boone will perform jazz standards. Tempting live and silent auction items include a wine cellar, box seats at Staples Center for a Lakers game, a Hawaiian vacation, and more. Individual tickets start at $250.

Union Station Homeless Services is the San Gabriel Valley’s largest social service agency, providing housing, employment, and life skills programs to men, women, and children in need. Every year, the organization serves 170,000 meals and provides shelter for 300. What’s more, it has a proven record of success in helping to transform lives. For example, each year, approximately 60% of single adults and 85% of families exit its shelter programs with stable or permanent housing, and 100% of families exit its transitional housing program with permanent housing.

California Club, 538 S. Flower St., LA
For information, (626) 240-4557, www.unionstationhs.org.

Dracula Extended Again!

Talk about immortal. The production of "Dracula" at the NoHo Arts Center has been extended until May 17. Let the blood-sucking continue. See our review.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hungarian and Bohemian Rhapsody

Henry Schlinger reviewed the LA Phil's May 3 concert.

This past weekend, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra performed a series of concerts led by Austrian conductor Hans Graf. On the program were three works by composers from Eastern European countries: Concerto for Orchestra by Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodály; the Concerto No. 2 in A major for piano and orchestra by Franz Liszt, another Hungarian composer; and the Symphony No. 8 in G major by Antonin Dvorák, who was born in Bohemia (which then became Czechoslovakia and is nowadays the Czech Republic).

Sunday’s concert opened with the Concerto for Orchestra by Zoltan Kodály, which is nothing like its much more popular namesake from fellow countryman Bela Bartók. Kodály’s concerto, which predates the Bartók, was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to honor its 50th anniversary and was premiered in 1941. Unlike Bartók’s concerto, which is scored for a bigger orchestra, the Kodály is written in the style of the older concerto grosso and, like that form, features the interplay between the orchestra and various groups of musicians, in particular a string quintet comprising two cellos, violin and two violas – played richly on this occasion by the principal strings. The concerto, a continuous work in three movements, is noteworthy, in part, for the absence of percussion instruments (save for a triangle). It is always a treat to hear an obscure work for the first time, especially one that is as delightful as the Kodály, and the L.A. Phil under Graf played it with a vitality and freshness that befitted its premiere by the orchestra.

The first half of the concert concluded with the Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major by Liszt with the young Russian pianist Kirill Gerstein. Although Liszt’s second concerto is less of a virtuoso piece than his first, one can nevertheless discern from this concerto that Liszt was more of a performer than a composer. It is somewhat interesting that Liszt, who was a virtuoso pianist and a relatively major composer, only wrote two piano concerti, neither of which exceeded 20 minutes. Like the Kodály, the Liszt is one continuous movement consisting of six sections. Gerstein, a tall, lanky Russian, seemed to loom over the keyboard, but his hands danced effortlessly across the keys as both he and Graf were in almost perfect sync. Too bad the orchestra at times overshadowed the piano part. The allegro moderato features a solo cello part somewhat reminiscent of the Brahms second piano concerto, which was beautifully played by Principal Cellist Peter Stumpf. The audience appreciated Gerstein’s performance, and he rewarded them with an encore of the Liebesleid by Fritz Kreisler (arr. Rachmaninoff).

The second half of the concert was devoted to a single work, the Symphony No. 8 in G major by Dvorák, written in 1889. Dvorak followed in the tradition of Schumann and Brahms (as opposed to the tradition of Liszt and Wagner) of writing pure music in the late Romantic style. Dvorák composed the eighth symphony in a spurt of inspiration within about two months in the fall of 1889 at his cottage in the Bohemian countryside. Perhaps not surprisingly, the eighth symphony, unlike its darker and more stormy predecessor, is upbeat and sunny, although there are some solemn moments, especially the G minor opening of the first movement and sections of the C minor Adagio. Nevertheless, the overall feel of the symphony is one of joy and triumph, perhaps reflecting, in part, Dvorák’s peaceful surroundings.

Graf, who is not terribly expressive, conducted the symphony in a crisp but restrained manner, which worked for the inner two movements, but felt somewhat lacking in the outer movements, especially the last movement. Perhaps he was trying to accentuate the triumphant coda dominated by brass and tympani. Either way, the L.A. Phil, as always, showed why they are indeed a world-class orchestra.

A subtle aspect of Graf’s conducting also caught our attention. The scores of all three pieces on the program included trombones and Graf was not shy about featuring them, especially in the last movement of the Dvorák. It was almost as if he and the L.A. Phil trombone section were paying tribute to Principal Trombonist Steven Witser, who died this week at the age of 48.

Photos of Hans Graf and Kirill Gerstein courtesy of LA Phil

Saturday, May 2, 2009

"Photography as Meditation"

As Descanso Gardens’ first artist-in-residence, photographer Christine Burrill has been exploring the spring blooms up close over the past month, zooming in on birds of paradise, yellow tidy tips, and roses wet with dew. Her prints will be on view at Descanso Gardens on Sunday, May 3, and she will talk about her experience capturing them in “The Pause of Focus: Photography as Meditation” from 2 to 4 p.m.

Burrill has been focusing on macro photography of flora for several years. As the title of her talk implies, her approach is almost Zen-like. Burrill says she finds photography “contemplative and meditative,” not just the time spent with the camera in the gardens, but also the work afterward, reviewing every frame and “making it perfect.”

“It slows you down,” she says, “nature does in general, but especially photography.”

Burrill’s images have a haiku-like simplicity, capturing with precision the most exquisite and easily overlooked details in nature. During her residency, she discovered a newfound appreciation for roses while photographing them on a recent dewy morning, but the wildflowers in the California native section remain her favorites, even as masses of bees swarmed around some of them. “The bees were not interested in me,” she says, “which was good.”

A USC Film School graduate, Burrill has spent more than 30 years behind the camera and has worked extensively as a cinematographer and writer of documentary films. One of her projects was the Dixie Chicks’ “Shut Up and Sing.” But she sees her still photography as a creative escape from her work on documentaries, which entail following people around and waiting for a story to unfold and for dramatic moments to occur.

While working on a film in the Brazilian Amazon, Burrill snapped photos of the indigenous tribes and, inspired by David Hockney’s concept of the photo collage, combined dozens of individual prints to form massive, almost motion-picture images. She has exhibited that series and other work in South America, Europe and the United States.

Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge, (818) 949-4200, www.descansogardens.org