Performance artist and satirist Richard Montoya brought his pointed history of Chavez Ravine and Dodger Stadium to the Westside of Los Angeles at the Moss Theater in Santa Monica on April 3. Bravo to Concertmaster Margaret Batjer on another unique program for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Westside Connections series. The theme was culturally relevant and entertaining; Montoya’s performance work was coupled with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra playing the music of contemporary Mexico City composers Silvestre Revueltas and Carlos Chávez.
Batjer’s program derives its inspiration from Montoya’s political and cultural analysis of events before and after the unique clash of class and culture around Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Not your average chamber music.
Montoya has been addressing issues around racial interaction and integration with humor and satire since 1984 through his performances with Culture Clash. He employed an apparent stream of consciousness format, with frequent dodges and weaves in content; a flow of loosely connected dynamic. His dramatic narratives were totally convincing as he portrayed Vin Scully, Fernando Valenzuela and others. He chose a passage that brilliantly juxtaposed Valenzuela on the mound of Dodger Stadium hearing the voices of the families long displaced from the same spot. His presentation ended with a video of news photos from the eviction streaming by in a penetrating, emotional silence.
All in all, a very provocative evening, unusual for a chamber music concert, informative and entertaining — singularly part of the Los Angeles chapter of our American story.
The Quartet for Strings No. 4, “Música de Feria,” by Revueltas opened the musical segment of the program. The music was very rhythmic, full of Mexican motifs, yet distinctive and modern. Revueltas uses an international language with Mexican argot. Chavez produced a delicate blend of Mexican and Indian influences in his “Trio for Harp, Flute and Viola.” Flutist David Shostac had a rich tone that blended beautifully with Robert Brophy’s viola, especially when Chávez emphasized the low-register timbres. Harpist JoAnn Turovsky used a gentle touch to support the group with a breezy, dynamic force. Violinist Josefina Vergara returned to the stage as soloist on Chávez’s “Sonatina for Violin and Piano.” She was animated in her delivery, and she expressed the nuance of the Mexican and Indian influences.
Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 in F major, Op. 96/B 179, the “American Quartet,” was clearly the climactic peak to the energy of the concert. The entire ensemble was just superb.
Violinist Cheryl Norman-Brick was extraordinary. Her empathy of movement and sound was completely fluid as her instrument sang with a beautiful lyric quality of touch. She was powerful in her lead. I will remember this performance. Bravo to Cheryl Norman-Brick on an inspired performance!
Violinist Maia Jasper calibrated the group with her keen attention to the other players. She was vibrant in her solo and duo segments, but her contribution was more: She took her cues from the salient players and bonded them into an ensemble of one voice. Her contribution to the coherence of the ensemble and continuo added immensely to the group.
The Moss Theater is a nice venue for chamber music, sporting very nice acoustics — a hidden gem of the Westside.
Westside Connections, now in its sixth season, concludes on May 15 with John Rubinstein, the prolific film, stage and television artist who is the son of legendary pianist Arthur Rubinstein.
~Theodore Bell/Culture Spot LA
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