- Terelle Jerricks
By Melina Paris, Music Columnist
A few hours spent at the Classical Underground concert on a recent Monday evening was an experience in live art for all the senses and the soul. To experience it, I advise getting on their email list.
Many people had already arrived a half hour before the show was to begin. A potluck buffet full of mostly homemade fare greeted attendees at the entrance. Many bottles of wine, at least 30, sat at the end of the table waiting to be emptied. The invitation requested that attendees bring enough good food, the kind that you would want to eat, and booze for everyone. They did just that. The scene was a genuine expression of gratitude by a community that has been cultivated through these monthly concerts. The invites are extended to a certain amount of people via email to these exclusive performances.
Classical Underground performances take place in a warehouse that is also the studio of Alexey Steele, the artist who puts on these events with his partner Olga Vlasova. His many works of art cover the warmly hued steel blue and deep red walls in this great room. Paintings are propped on the floor and perched on furniture.
The cavernous studio space quickly filled with people. The crowd–eagerly awaiting the concert to begin–anticipated a musical treat. Attendees knew they would be gratified. The dynamic internationally recognized composer Juan Jose Colomer was in attendance as violinist Ambroise Aubrun and pianist Anna Sarkisovapro prepared to perform Colomer’s composition, “Downtown Bagatelle,”
Alexey is a social magnet with an easy manner. Barely three steps out, people swarmed Alexey with questions and casual conversation. Olga had to draw his attention to the fact that Colomer had arrived.
Colomer, born in Valencia, Spain, has lived in the states for 20 years. He has been a student of classical music since the age of 8 when he learned the trumpet. He progressed from playing instruments to writing suites and always played in orchestras. A tragedy is what redirected him to music composition. A car accident left him in a wheelchair, robbed of the ability to play the trumpet.
“I’ve been lucky enough to keep busy and am getting busier,” Colomer said.
Colomer met the cultural power couple during a series of concerts he staged at his downtown Los Angeles loft some years ago. Alexey and Olga heard about the concerts on the grapevine and attended. They soon learned they had three friends in common.
Colomer got a Latin Grammy for best classical album in 2008 for the CD Passion Espanola with Placido Domingo. Colomer describes his latest compositional work, “Downtown Bagatelle” as an unpretentious piece of work. He said that bagatelle means “something of little value or importance– a trifle.”
“Downtown Bagatelle” has a tranquil start before quietly expanding with moving nuances. The lower piano chords in the middle of the piece played so softly surprisingly offer a different experience for the senses. I was able to take in the quiet vibration rather than the dramatic sound that these chords can sometimes convey. The intensity slowly builds and then as the music softens again I was left to feel an elevated sense of peace and serenity by the close of the number.
Culturally speaking, Alexey says on his website that today’s Los Angeles is reminiscent of Paris 100 years ago in that there was much artistic churning under the radar of the mainstream gaze.
“I think Los Angeles is ‘the Paris of the 21st Century’, and that the brooding under the radar of mainstream dramatic artistic changes in the creative combustive City of Angels closely repeats what was happening exactly 100 years ago in the City of Lights.”
“The messiness of making music is in LA right now, not in New York anymore, musicians compose in a different way here. We are defining new things, new ways… how do we function in the new times?”
On this night, he made a similar parallels between Spain and Los Angeles when he invited Colomer to the stage, underscoring Los Angeles’ importance as a hotbed of globally significant art.
The next number, Igor Stravinsky’s “Trois mouvements de Petrouchka” a piano arrangement renowned for its technical and musical difficulties, was performed by Anton Smirnov.
With its wild and rapid jumps that span over two octaves, its complex polyrhythms, extremely fast scales, multiple glissandos and tremolos. It’s no wonder that the piece achieved the notoriety that it did. Glissandos , an act of sliding a finger up or down a keyboard from one note to another and tremolos,the rapid repetition of a tone or the rapid alternation between two tones in singing or playing a musical instrument to produce a quavering effect are incorporated with superlative effect here.
Smirnov’s performance of the music was nothing less than amazing. This is the majesty of music. Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka” is musically the equivalent of the meaning of our final human reincarnation – perfection.
After intermission, Steele shared that they were fortunate enough to acquire a Steinway piano for the evening. When the piano was put in place, Steele explained that he just soaked in the sight of this instrument and said to himself, “Damn, this is something humans do right! This is what art gives us.”
Pianist Anna Sarkisova, performed Isaac Albeniz’s “Evocation” accompanied by a cello. It’s an elegant piece that slowly insinuates itself into your mind. It’s a little melancholy and lets your thoughts be taken away. Contentedly I was doing absolutely nothing but listening.
The next two pieces were for cello and they were described as invasive and intrusive by a guest speaker. He went on to say about the pieces that this is not Alexey Steele, this is Dr. Spock; intellectual and complicated. Apparently at the first rehearsal he says he could not even tell if the musicians were playing the right notes. He further described the pieces as objects in space and cosmic time.
Right he was. Both pieces were very cerebral. They expanded in my mind’s eye new patterns of sound. Through the cello, I simultaneously experienced an emotional connection to this earthly plane while my imagination traveled the cosmos.
It was getting late and I had to go home but for Classical Underground the night was still young. The last number that I saw was for the clarinet and guitar. It was Spanish music that sounded like the beautiful melodies of Gypsies; sweet and joyous integrating a Mediterranean sound. The moods this number conveyed went from serene to celebratory. I was transported back in time to a Sultan’s castle dancing with impunity amongst belly dancers, incense and hookah pipes. My spirit wanted nothing more than to move with the music.
I am hooked on Classical Underground. I have always appreciated classical music but I have now encountered the depth, complexities, joy and immensity of it. In Classical Undergrounds words, “In Art We Trust!”