September 12, 2012

Cal Performances' High Octane Season

By Mark MacNamara

Matias TarnopolskyIn just three years Director Matias Tarnopolsky has put his brand on Cal Performances, and his wish to feature more “thematic moments” as well as new music programming is all coming true. We asked him about his personal favorites in the first third of the new season.

First, a restaging of Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach (Oct. 26-28), which is now about to begin a run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This was the work that fired up the careers of both Wilson and Philip Glass, who scored the work and was once quoted as saying, “I put [Wilson’s sketches] on the piano and composed each section like a portrait of the drawing before me. The score was begun in the spring of 1975 and completed by the following November, and those drawings were before me all the time.” This is the opera’s first performance west of the Hudson and part of a statement Tarnopolsky is making that “we are [able] to bring the very finest in the world to the University of California campus.”

Then, on Nov. 8, Tarnopolsky is following his conviction that “you can and you must build a connection with the audience through residency.” He is referring to the artists-in-residency program at Cal Performances. Esa-Pekka Salonen is the focus during this evening of conversation and performance. Salonen is the famous Finnish conductor, now 54, who is currently the principal conductor and artistic director of the Philharmonic Orchestra in London, and perhaps best known for making the Los Angeles Philharmonic into the progressive force in classical music it has become. You may also remember that in 1983, in London, Salonen got his start by replacing an ailing Michael Tilson Thomas and conducting a piece of music he had never studied much less prepared — Mahler’s lengthy Symphony No. 3.

Tarnopolsky’s third favorite this fall is the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of Venezuela led by his dear friend, Gustavo Dudamel (November 29, 30). The orchestra includes 200 young musicians developed through El Sistema, the much-heralded, state-supported musical ‘farm system.’ As with baseball or soccer, kids from the youngest ages are drawn toward a “dignified social destiny”, in the words of the orchestra’s founder, Jose Antonio Abreu. For many, it’s the only possible way to reach such a destiny. As for the music, says Tarnopolsky, “Gustavo is opening up a world of repertoire. This is very exciting.”

“Gustavo is opening up a world of repertoire. This is very exciting.” — Matias Tarnopolsky

The season starts on Sept. 15 with the National Circus of the People’s Republic of China, which was founded in 1953 and inspired some of the creators of the Cirque de Soleil. The program includes acts such as Great Teeterboard, Grand Flying Trapeze, Group Contortion, Straw Hats Juggling, Girls’ Balance With Bowls, and, of course, clowns.

The following week, on Sept. 18, at the intersection of art and politics, Laurie Anderson performs Dirtday! “A dreamscape of words”, as she puts it and the third piece in a trilogy that began in 2002 with Happiness followed in 2004 with The End Of the Moon. As she says, “Both of these were responses to big situations. Dirtday began with the very tragic situation looking around the United States … a decade after 9/11; so much fear, and so Dirtday was really inspired by trying to look at that fear, from a few differtnt points of view, almost from the point of view of what is it when a whole nation gets hypnotized?”

And then Sept. 27 through 29, to continue the world of absurdity, Theatre de al Ville performs Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinooceros. It’s in French, with English subtitles. Ionesco took his theme of conformism from the rise of the Iron Guard, a fascist, anti-Semitic movement that spread through Romania in the years leading up to World War II. This is really a sumptuous staging, not to be missed.

Finally, at month’s end, the “Free-for-all.” Tarnopolsky is very much concerned with reaching out to the local community and so, on Sept. 30, he once more flings open the doors to Zellerbach Hall, as well as stages across the UC Berkeley campus, for a day full of music, theater, and dance. Last year, the event drew 13,000 people. In addition, throughout the year Cal Performances puts on school-time performances, symposia on music education, and master classes with stars like Dudamel.

Other events to look for late in the fall include the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra in a production of Swan Lake; The Delfeaya Marsalis Octet; and the Ensemble Basiani, a remarkable chorus from the country of Georgia singing folk songs and chants.

Mark MacNamara (macnamband.com) is a journalist in San Francisco who has written for such publications as Salon.com, Vanity Fair, and The Stanford Social Innovation Review. He also wrote a recent piece for Nautilus, a science magazine, about Edward Elgar’s penchant for ciphers and riddles.