WEST L.A. CULTURAL SCENE ALIVE AND DIVERSE

I might have been on hiatus for several weeks, but the very varied cultural scene in west Los Angeles certainly was not, and is not, as I observe on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere

At the Broad Stage, tomorrow is percussion personified, as the renowned TAO troupe performs its latest production, entitled Drum Heart. Expect the auditorium in Santa Monica to reverberate, with the unique Japanese sound and style.

Then on Sunday the Broad Stage will be the scene of a very different sound and presence, a classic music concert. Wrapping up its multiyear Beethoven String Quartet cycle, the acclaimed Calder Quartet will be playing a program including two of the master’s compositions.

And for a little variation, the program also will feature a string quintet, by Mozart, with a guest musician on the additional instrument of a viola. That no doubt is a reminder by the quartet that is should not to be remembered for just Beethoven.

Nor I should add should the Broad Stage should only be known for music, having last week hosted the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Revolutionary when founded 50 years ago as a home for Afro American ballet dancers then being shunned, the group continues to be, simply and boldly, outstanding.

It brought the Broad Stage to life, and the audience to its feet applauding, in a limited appearance that featured an inspired program of neo-classical and contemporary ballet. Particularly moving was the ballet “Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven”: subtitled Odes to Love and Loss. It was as the creator Ulysees Dove had hoped, “an experience in movement, a story without words” Beautiful.

Not to be, should I say, upstaged, The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills continues with its rich tradition of diverse dance, music and theater offerings. On my must see list is “Blues In The Night,”

Conceived and directed by Sheldon Epps, the musical bears witness to sorrowful stories of three women, and the men who have done them wrong. Featuring 26, yes, that is two dozen plus two, for a very full evening of the sexy songs made famous by Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, and a host of famed others.

It runs until May 20th. but it promises to be an evening that you just might want to see and hear several times.

 

And for something very different, at the Skirball Cultural Center, atop Brentwood, this Sunday, is a puppet festival. Featured in addition to live music and kid workshops, will be a performance by the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre’s famed Animal Cracker Conspiracy Puppet Company. We’re talking real art and entertainment here.

 

 

GEHRY GETS ANOTHER GO FOR DOWNTOWN L.A.

Putting on my old battered hat as an architecture critic, which I was for a decade for the L.A. Times, my focus this week is downtown Los Angeles. If the ageless renown Frank Gehry can emerge as the designer of the latest addition to the hill, certainly I can, as an abiding commentator.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, Angelenos with a memory might recall the once grand residential topped hill was lobotomized a half century ago as an urban renewal project, with the hope of becoming a mixed-use district featuring the city’s cultural attractions.

Beginning with the sprawling Music Center, distinguished by the neo-classsic trio Chandler, Ahmanhson and Mark Taper theatres, built somewhat haphazardly over the years has been MOCA and Broad museums, the Colburn school and the Disney Concert Hall.

Despite providing photo ops for tourists, and designed by the preening Gehry, the glistening, curvaceous concert hall, frankly, has not as promised activated the area. Though promoted as L.A. ‘s Champs Elysees, the districts’ principal street, Grand Avenue, is not very grand.

But there is hope. At long last after much failed planning attempts, it appears a viable design has emerged for the critical central site across from the concert hall, known as parcels Q and w-2. and labeled Grand.

And grand, if ambitious, it will be, a $1 billion stacked conceit by Gehry featuring a 39 story residential tower, of condos and apartments. and a 20 story luxury hotel , with the base of the usual high end restaurants, retail and entertainment And yes, some of the apartments will designated as affordable.

Frankly, they appear boxy and functional in the renderings, though the project-friendly facades should lend it animation and interest, so says Gehry, who after decades has produced a design that makes both financial and urbane sense. That’s at least according to the developer, Related Companies ,in partnership with the China Communications Construction Group.

Most critically for the public is the frontage of the project, and the pedestrian plaza, facing a not distinctive or welcome entrance to the concert hall. To be sure, the hall works as an iconic work of sculpture, but not particularly well as architecture, providing a space and place for people to meet and mingle.

Gehry has explained that his original plan for the concert hall indicated a very public entrance, the building to serve as a “ living room for the city.”

I incidentally cited this is my original review recommending Gehry for the project. But it sadly was not in the final design, which Gehry subsequently claimed was compromised by the client.

It seems there has been a host of his other projects included in this blame game, which over the years have made one wary of Gehry’s presentations. Architects do have a way of saying one thing, what a client or the media want or likes to hear, and then designing another.

So while hoping the Grand as designed by Gehry will indeed revitalize Bunker Hill and that L.A. at last will get a grand boulevard, we at present have to be reserved and hold back judgment.

 

 

NEW HOPE FOR THE L.A. TIMES

So, the once robust but now sadly ailing Los Angeles Times is getting a new publisher, as I comment this on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere. He is fittingly a medical doctor, though to be sure with deep pockets.

But unlike the parade of noxious carpetbaggers from chilly Chicago who never seemed to warm to sunny Southern California, the new owner, Patrick Soon-Shiong, is a certified local, having been born in South Africa of Chinese parents, and now lives in and apparently likes L.A. so much has several homes here, including one on Broad Beach, Malibu.

Well, certainly he is as local as most of the other drivers of cars in the next lane clogging the very democratic freeways, but probably having the good luck of immigrating here whenever.

That is at least before the dotard in the White House painted the appropriation “immigrant” some sort of mark of Cain, and apparently no memory of the roots of his parents Fred and Mary. According to my memory, they were of proud immigrant stock, from Germany and Scotland, and for better and worse, embraced the America’s entrepreneurial ethic.

And in the interest of public disclosure, I must add that Fred Trump employed as an interior decorator for their residential projects, my father, an immigrant, from Soviet Russia via Paris.

As an immigrant who obviously also embraced the American dream, Soon-Shiong probably experienced the common rough road to success, and thus brings to the lofty perch as publisher a pocketful of prejudices. Hopefully among them is a respect for the First Amendment, essentially our Bill of Rights, guaranteeing the freedom of the press.

But realistically there is no guarantee that the publisher being local necessarily will translate into a needed better daily newspaper, certainly not if the bottom line does not pencil out.

We as the conscious class may view a newspaper as essential to an informed population, vital to the care and feeding of a democracy. Yes, but to an owner it is essentially a business, no matter how ego inflating, indeed seductive and possibly fun, it might seem in this celebrity crazed world. May Punch Sulzberger and Katherine Graham rest in peace.

There also are other problems at the LATimes, principally its staff, which when I was its indulged design critic in the 1980s topped 1,000. In a noble quest then to be one of the nation’s more prestigious papers, (A shout out here for the stalwart stewardship of Bill Thomas Tom Johnson.) The Times pursued select journalists. This immodestly included me, having been previously a reporter with the NY Times, briefly an editor of the NY Post, and the author of several best selling urban-oriented books.

After a dozen satisfying years there, I became bored and had the luck of timing to leave, in 1991. Purely coincidentally, soon after with the rise of the internet the newspaper business faltered, the paper was unfortunately sold and fell sway to questionable managers, who slashed and burned staff to a present flailing 400.

And further out of bad judgment most who were bought or forced out were the higher paid and more experienced, the type of “writers and editors who are passionate,” according to a quote of Soon-Shiong, and that the paper desperately needs. Sadly, I find the present paper poorly edited and written.

But ever hopeful, and acutely aware of the need for a discerning press, I have renewed our subscription to the LA.Times, at least for a few months. I suggest you might want to, also.