Timothy “Timo” Andres was a busy man about Los Angeles this past week. Thursday night, he played Sorbet, his solo piano palate-cleanser, as part of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s “Westside Connections” series. Friday night and Saturday afternoon, he joined wild Up’s concerts highlighting younger composers and, as they described it, “the music of right now.”
His biggest moments came Saturday and Sunday evenings with LACO, performing a pair of his works each night: the world premiere of Old Keys for piano & orchestra, and his re-interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26. His appearances with LACO this season and the commission itself came from being the subject of this year’s LACO’s “Sound Investment” project: for each of the past eleven seasons, new music enthusiasts are invited to contribute as little as $150 to help commission a new work from an up-and-coming composer; in return for their generosity, they get a chance to meet with the composer as many as three times during his/her composition process, plus some other benefits. Nearly 100 people participated this year.
Based on what I heard Saturday night at Glendale’s Alex Theatre, the money was clearly well spent. Mr. Andres the composer offered up a compelling set of works that showed different aspects of his compositional personality and skill. Mr. Andres the pianist played them with confidence and wit. Jeffrey Kahane and the orchestra gave ample support in the two concertos and additional context with a late Mozart symphony. Taken together, it was a refreshing night of music that makes me want to hear even more from this twenty-something composer.
Old Keys is a single movement work that “never sits still and just contents itself with one or two things,” as Mr. Andres stated in a recent interview. A set of two-note patterns dominate the early part of the piece, sometimes rising, sometimes falling. Though the harmonies and rhythms continue to move, evolve, and grow over time, they never become particularly thick or thorny, reaching a carillon-like climax before settling down again through to the finale.
When it’s all said and done, Old Keys doesn’t ask much of soloist, orchestra, or audience, but it doesn’t pander to them either. There is more than enough music where complexity is mistaken for profundity, and Old Keys avoids that trap. It is concise in its musical language without necessarily being compact in form.
I’ve never been that fond of the traditional take on the Mozart “Coronation” concerto. It’s always seemed like too much music-box nicety, so I appreciated Mr. Andre’s enthusiasm for breaking down stylistic boundaries. He specifically mentioned a number of composers as inspiration, with the Ives-like collisions standing out in the first movement and a tender, jazzy second movement that evoked Ravel; however, the composer that most came to my mind was Carl Stalling. Mr. Andres’s machinations in the left hand mischievously toy with and morph Mozart’s themes while deferring to them in the end, and it’s pretty easy to imagine Bugs Bunny wreaking havoc on some unsuspecting antagonist with this music as a soundtrack. Mr. Kahane and the orchestra dutifully played straight-man, holding up a pristine Mozartean backdrop against which Mr. Andres could do his thing to maximum effect. It was all very clever, inventive, and most of all, musically satisfying.
As a pianist, Mr. Andres played with a crispness and precision in both pieces. Neither of the works called for great power or the kind of overt, knuckle-busting virtuosity the way, say, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Piano Concerto does. That said, the “Coronation” re-working was full of poly-rhythmic moments and assorted other challenges that make it difficult to maneuver around the keyboard without interrupting the constancy of Mozart’s original right-hand part. Mr. Andres made it all look natural. Any potential doubts about his technical skills were put to rest when he played the encore: his own rollicking, solo-piano transcription of Mahler’s “Des Antionius von Paduas Fischpredigt” from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (which perhaps is more easily remembered as the theme from the third movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2).
The Mozart 40th Symphony that came after intermission was fresh in its own way, scrubbed clean of any excess fat or angst by Mr. Kahane. He focused on the dynamic details without micro-managing them. Tempos had lots of forward momentum, even in the slower moments, without ever feeling rushed. The orchestra responded admirably, and while an occasional bassoon or horn line was allowed to peek through, the steely sound of the strings was what stuck in my head long after the concert ended.
Random other thoughts:
- Based on the buzz in the lobby and auditorium before the concert and during intermission, the bulk of the audience seemed quite appreciative of Mr. Andres and his compositional efforts. Of course, there are always dissenters — in this case, they were mostly traditionalists who preferred their “Coronation” concerto played with healthy doses of old-school Alberti bass. Some were wary even before the first note was played: as Mr. Andres stepped onto the stage, one person was overheard lamenting, “He’s wearing brown shoes, so this is going to be dissonant.”
- Speaking of his attire, Mr. Andres has said that he’s paying more attention to his clothes lately, and at both Thursday and Saturday night, he looked rather dapper — “foppish,” in fact, to use his own words. In addition to the aforementioned brown shoes, he sported a lean-cut blue suit that wouldn’t look out of place on Mad Men. Socks, pocket square, and tie were all burgundy, offering nice splashes of color to the whole look.
- Mr. Andres wasn’t the only one whose appearance — and shoes — are worth noting. Let’s face it: LACO has long been the best looking ensemble in So Cal, conservative but stylish. The award for best heels of the night goes, in a tie, to both Concertmaster Margaret Batjer and violinist Katia Popov.
- I can’t be the only one who hears the Mozart 40th and immediately thinks of that old commercial for the Norton Simon Museum in which the first movement played in the background while Candice Bergen did the voice-over: ”Sculptures. Paintings. Tapestries. . . . Degas. Goya. Picasso. . . .” There is a YouTube video that has the right commercial, but alas, not the original music (if you’re in a nostalgic mood, click HERE).
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: March 24, 2012; Alex Theatre (Glendale)
Jeffrey Kahane, conductor
Timothy Andres, piano
TIMOTHY ANDRES: Old Keys (commissioned by LACO’s Sound Investment– world premiere)
MOZART/ANDRES: Mozart “Coronation” Concerto re-composition (for piano and orchestra) (West Coast premiere)
MOZART: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, KV. 550
Photo credit: Jonathan Waiter (www.andres.com)