A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

Southwest Chamber Music found magic when the South and East mixed for the 2015 Los Angeles International New Music Festival at REDCAT on July 13. Of course, I speak of the acclaimed Mexican percussion ensemble, Tambuco, performing the music of four young Japanese composers and the Japanese master composer Toru Takemitsu. Ensemble players Alfredo Bringas, Raúl Tudón and Miguel González, along with founder Ricardo Gallardo, were recently honored for their interest in traditional Japanese music by the Japan Foundation with an award for Arts and Culture. All of the new works of the program were written for Tambuco and were U.S. premieres.

In the preconcert interview with Southwest Chamber Music Artistic Director Jeff von der Schmidt, Gallardo described the concept of music as “listening art” that requires participation by the audience. Listening to Tambuco was like hearing an unfamiliar dialect. There were chromatic instruments capable of producing melodic passages, but there was also a vocabulary of less-pitched percussion often with unorthodox technique, yet clearly fitting within a discernable prosody and supra-segmental structure. The quartet had a communal aesthetic about them that was supported by an extraordinary virtuosity and creativity. The music they produced was more akin to that of a chamber orchestra than a quartet.

A Japanese big drum pounded the opening notes in Masamichi Kinoshita’s “Les enfants de la mer qui ont perdu la memoire de l’eau II.” The stage was crowded with conventional and unconventional instruments, all manner of woods, metals and membranes that were struck, stroked and scraped by various materials, including flesh. The complex timbres and pitches of rectangular metal plates, even a giant spring, blended with vibes to give rise to a peculiar tonality. Conducting was minimal and rotated around the group, and separating the musicians from their collective stream of consciousness was difficult.

“A Sign,” composed by Toshiya Watanabe, evoked a different feeling, warmer and more delicate. High-pitched bells shimmered over tonal ostinato and static floating harmonies.

Takumi Ikeda’s “La Caverna” featured the big drums and timpani playing wonderful loosely pitched groans and glissandos. Unusual sounds were unexpectedly musical, such as plastic credit cards scraping the snare, and radio feedback. Takemitsu’s “Rain Tree” was gorgeous. The timbres danced between metal and wood. The vibes and marimba branched into beautiful contrapuntal melodic sequences.

The climactic intensity for the night came from Tomoko Momiyama’s “Moons of Hidden Times.” A brisk driving march gave way to a sweeping surge of energy. Gallardo played a three-note sequence on an ocarina, such a simple and beautiful sound over a most unusual background of rattles and chains of shell and metal that were draped across the metals and woods of the vibes and marimba and the surface of bells and drums. At its peak, the entire room resonated with splashing cymbals and a pounding big drum. A gradual crescendo of thrashing cymbals and gongs was articulated with violent abrupt decays sharply muffled by the full bodies of the players. The energy was intense. The effect was searing.

Bravo to Tambuco for an eye-opening experience of musicality rarely experienced! As my ears became more and more experienced with the musicians, their expressions grew into a truly unique music with a natural beauty and sublime affective powers.

~ Theodore Bell, Culture Spot LA

For more information, visit www.swmusic.org and www.tambuco.org.