Sings Like Hell Heads to the Luke

Music Academy of the West Kicks Off Festival Season

<b>ROLL WITH IT:</b> Sings Like Hell brings The Wheeler Brothers to the Marjorie Luke Theatre this August.

TEMPORARY FIX: There is something innately sad about driving down Anacapa Street and seeing the Lobero Theatre swathed in fencing in its current remodeling phase, locked into a months-long between state when we Lobero-philes have to learn to do without. We’ve come to view the historic Lobero as a go-to ground-zero room for much of the finer cultural doings in town of the sub-thousand-seat-capacity nature. The room is especially conducive to classical music — the CAMA performances by Christian Tetzlaff and András Schiff’s Bach epiphany this year have been stunners — and as virtually the only real game in town for jazz concerts on the world-stage level. On that latter count, the night when the Brad Mehldau Trio met The Bad Plus in May was one for the annals of great and provocative jazz nights in town in years.

Of course, Santa Barbara boasts many fine venues to pick up the slack, and one of the long-standing Lobero regulars, the wondrous monthly Sings Like Hell (SLH) concert series, has, in the interim, moved its operation over to the Marjorie Luke Theatre, another great, intimate, and history-imbued room. Ironically, the first concert of the new series of six Sings Like Hell shows for the rest of this year features Saturday’s visit from the present reunion trip of the Alvin Bros–led Blasters, a band that infamously sparked a mini-riot at the Lobero back in the punkish epoch of the early ’80s, which got them banned from the place. Of course, the term “riot,” as with the theater uprising for Stravinsky’s modernism-launching Rite of Spring a hundred years ago, is subject to debate. Be on the lookout for welcome SLH returnees David Lindley (July 27) and the Wheeler Brothers (August 24), at the Luke.

FRINGE GUIDE TO MAW: As the classical concert season turns in Santa Barbara and the supposedly lean times of summer approach, lovers of contemporary music are often given some substance to chew on and soak up. The process began with the globally important Ojai Music Festival in early June and continues with some healthy doses of music from the last century (what a concept!) during the Music Academy of the West festival, underway now through early August.

Taking in the dozen or so concerts (and mini-concerts) over four days two weeks ago, the Ojai Festival generally felt a bit flat and ill-focused to this veteran Ojai-phile’s senses. Choreographer Mark Morris, for some reason, was appointed music director, and he cooked up some offbeat ideas, not to mention a dedicated focus on easy-on-the-ears American mavericks Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison. The dance element seemed mixed and out of place in this, one of America’s great and contemporary-ish music festivals, but the stars of the show to my ears were the “other” major mavericks, Charles Ives and John Cage. Ives’s String Trio and String Quartet No. 2, not to mention his art songs on Sunday morning, were captivating, comforting, and senses-goosing.

It was great to hear John Luther Adam’s songbirdsongs at 8 a.m. at the idyllic Meditation Mount, with the resident birds joining in real time, real birdsong, and also to hear Cage in the late-night slots — the blue-caped Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson performing the rare hour-long Four Walls on Friday and the great percussion group redfishbluefish offering an hour of meditative and muscular Cage works, which was probably the festival highlight. I’m expecting greater things next year in Ojai, when deep thinker Jeremy Denk takes the reins.

On the MAW front, last Saturday’s orchestral opener included Bartók and Ravel’s dizzy, cool La valse, and this Monday night, we’ll have the truly rare treat of hearing a West Coast premiere of a new, substantial piece by a major living composer, Matthias Pintscher (soon to be director of the grand contemporary institution Ensemble InterContemporain). At Hahn Hall, he will conduct the Festival Orchestra in his new half-hour, creation-themed tone poem bereshit. Other points of programming intrigue on the 2013 festival menu coming includes a juicy program by Brooklyn Rider next Wednesday.


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