Get serious, Los Angeles!

Music · Visual arts
Richard Valitutto, Pianospheres Jan 14
photo: Jonathan Nesteruk

It’s January. So, no excuses. Clear the eggnog out of your noggin — and get ready for some serious art. In Los Angeles, it’s all around us. Artists and their presenters are hitting the new decade afresh, and with force. It does not get headier than the L.A. Phil’s just-announced Weimar Republic: Germany 1918-1933, a multifaceted, performance-driven examination of a rich era of German art that pretty much hit a brick wall with the onset of the Third Reich. “Weimer, etc.,” which runs from February 6 – 26, has at its core L.A. Phil concerts of 20th Century German music. There is also a stimulating roster of public events under the rubric, “Weimar Variations.”

E-P Salonen

The essence of the Phil’s Weimarania must be the music, and two weekends (Feb 7, Feb 13) are devoted to it. (There is no real place to express this, but my thoughts stray naturally to LACMA’s world-class collection of Weimar visual art — photography, painting, posters — a renowned collection that has long distinguished our city.)

In the role of curator, conductor, and cultural tour guide is the Phil’s much revered wunderkind-emeritus and conductor laureate, Esa-Pekka Salonen, During his concerts, Disney Hall will resonate with the crystalline, the powerful, the bombastic-and-rapturous, and even the oom-pah-pah music of Kurt Weill, Paul Hindemith, and (Weimar great-great-grandpapa) J.S. Bach. One unmissable concert is a dream: a staged performance of Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins, with its Bertolt Brecht libretto mouthed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale. Oh, heavenly! — or as we say in German, “O, himmlisch!”

The other half of the festival (no one is really using that term however) is a miscellany of events called “Weimar Variations.” They include a sound installation by artist Susan Philipsz and a laser light show by Nicole Miller (yes, woman artists, yes, we’re noticing). There’s a cabaret (Willkommen!) and a Weimar queer-identity event. The big finale happens at my favorite hangout, The Egyptian Theatre, on Feb 29: a screening of G. W. Pabst’s silent movie, Pandora’s Box (1929), with live music accompaniment. Not so big a deal for cinephiles, and yet, I’m so glad to see the purveyors of high art in Los Angeles finally reaching the truth: that all roads lead to the balcony of the Egyptian Theatre — the most sublime place on earth to watch a movie.

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Pam Tanowitz/Brice Marden/Kaija Saariaho
Tanowitz, Four Quartets

Another heavy-hitting arts date to get onto your radar, Los Angeles, is the mid-February West Coast premiere of Four Quartets, choreographer Pam Tanowitz’s highly lauded full-evening work to a text by T. S. Eliot — at UCLA Royce Hall. Eliot’s poetic rumination on time and timelessness spools to music by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, as the dancers circulate amidst stunning, evolving sets by Brice Marden. This is a maximally challenging work of dance theater. I saw it in London, and struggled. But I want to go again. Just because … I’m wondering if the problem was me. Always a possibility!

An appetizer to these entrees … not in the sense that it is remotely light, but rather that, as one man and one piano it is quintessential … is slated for January 14 at the Colburn School’s Zipper Hall under the auspices of Pianospheres, the keyboard-focused new music group celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Richard Valitutto, talented and handsome (photo above), will play a solo concert bearing an intriguing title, “Thought and Desire.” Called by a writer in The New Yorker, “a piano superstar,” The program includes the U.S. premiere of Ramón Lazkano’s Petrikhor; as well as music by Helmet Lachenmann, Liza Lim, Francis Poulenc, Rebecca Saunders, Linda Catlin Smith, and George Walker. I know, and love, the music of Poulenc. But since it’s January 2020, there is simply no excuse to not get to know the others.

“Thought and Desire” is Valitutto’s emotionally charged title for his concert. That, in turn, hearkens a major impending event in the ballet world, choreographer Alexei Ratmansky‘s new work for American Ballet Theatre, “Of Love and Rage” in its world premiere at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County. Now, these are just titles. And yet, it feels like creators across art forms are shedding pretensions and reacting to a zeitgeist of much distraction, a surprising amount of struggle, and an abundance of ugliness in the public domain. Artists are pushing back by tapping their deep humanity, or so it feels.

But it remains to be seen, heard, and experienced, doesn’t it? So I’ll see you at the ballet. And the concert. And the movie. And the laser light show. Seriously.

Thought and Desire, Richard Valitutto | PianoSpheres, Zipper Hall | Jan 14
Weimar Republic: Germany 1918-1933 | L.A. Philharmonic | Feb 6 – 26
Four Quartets, Pam Tanowitz/Brice Marden/Kaija Saariaho | CAP UCLA Royce Hall | Feb 15-16

Of Love and Rage | American Ballet Theatre | Segerstrom Center for the Arts | Mar 5 – 8

Debra Levine is editor/publisher of arts●meme, the fine-arts blog she founded in 2008. A longtime dance writer, she has been published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Dance Magazine and more.

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