With all of the global hoopla and excitement about the Getty Center, the stunning new Acropolis of Bren-twood, the fact that there is a new performing arts facility on the premises has been lost in the shuffle. But there it was, waiting to be discovered — and Charlie Haden and CalArts’ renascent Spring Music Festival gave it a multifaceted workout Friday evening as part of the Sounds of L.A. series.
Although the Williams Auditorium — with its huge projection screen, comfortable, maplewood-rimmed theater seats and steeply raked seating plan — is primarily designed for the lectures and films that fill most of its booked time, it turns out to be a generally pleasing facility for voices and acoustical instruments. From a vantage point in the fourth row, the various-sized chamber and jazz orchestras from CalArts sounded clear, detailed, and slightly but not unpleasantly dry, with sufficient bass and good imaging.
From the back of the lower level, every detail was still in focus yet the sound was a bit distant, not projecting out to the audience as much as it could. A few storm signals went up at the outset when the CalArts Jazz combo sounded boomy and veiled, but that could be attributed to poor amplification.
This Liberation Music Orchestra was a CalArts student group that Haden fields every two or three years as a class project, using the Carla Bley-arranged repertoire from two of the professional LMO’s three albums. With Haden conducting and cheer-leading from the far left, the large CalArts LMO and chorus managed a rough-and-ready performance of the “Dream Keeper” suite, complete with the goofy anarchic episode for tuba and trap drums. The ensemble sounded alert in the suite’s Hispanic revolutionary songs but the soloing was mostly tentative. Haden himself closed the performance of “Silence” with a moving, benedictory bass solo with piano.
Haden was also the partially improvising soloist in Gavin Bryars’ moody, relaxed minimalist elegy “By the Vaar,” his massive bass tone projecting clearly through the hall over the sustained, repetitive strings of the CalArts Chamber Orchestra. Jacqueline Bobak’s poised soprano shone throughout the finely-cut atonal jewels of Mel Powell’s Settings for Soprano and Chamber Group, and she and tenor Christopher Fuelling made uproarious work of the dysfunctional dating couple’s duet in Marc Lowenstein’s “hearts in need of mending,” with every word intelligibly heard.