Oresteia—Iannis Xenakis’ Opera—Staged for The Wild Beast Concert Series on Sunday

CalArts hosts the West Coast premiere of Iannis Xenakis’ rarely staged opera, Oresteia, on Sunday, Nov. 7 at The Wild Beast Pavilion.

The expatriated Greek/French-naturalized composer and architect (1922-2001) is known for his daring experiments in both music and design. He is now considered one of the most important composers in the post-World War II avant garde, helping change the face of contemporary music and paving the development of electronic instrumentation.

The original Oresteia, from the fifth century B.C., chronicles the epic of the cursed House of Atreus. In Xenakis’ Oresteia, which is performed in Greek, the savage elemental score evokes Aeschylus’ mythic tragedy.

Remaining true to the composer’s experimental vision, CalArts stages Oresteia in a site reminiscent of ancient Greek theaters–a “mini-Hollywood Bowl” created by The Wild Beast. A 13-piece ensemble of wind instruments, brass and amplified solo cello will be joined by CalArts faculty baritone soloist Paul Berkolds and conducted by Mark Menzies. With 58 people performing, including men’s, women’s and children’s choruses roaming the CalArts’ campus, the setting sun will create an evocative backdrop for Xenakis’ interpretation of a timeless masterwork.

The production of Xenakis’ only opera is not the Institute’s first encounter with the composer. He performed at CalArts in 1983 for the Contemporary Music Festival.

From a 1983 New York Times article on the festival by John Rockwell:

This diversity of composers meant that everything in contemporary music from the fierce, semiscientific unapproachability of Mr. [Milton] Babbitt to the dappled structuralism of Mr. [Steve] Reich to the exquisitely crafted sound-color of Mr. [Witold] Lutoslawski to the cosmic phantasmagorias of Mr. Xenakis could be heard….

Conversely, one of the highlights of the festival was the hints offered of the range of lively new electronic music being created today, of which Mr. Xenakis’s was only the most prominent. A piece called ”Love in the Asylum” by Michael McNabb of Stanford proved particularly engaging, but nearly all the electronic music was stimulating and crisply presented from a technical standpoint as well.

Co-produced by The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts and the CalArts School of Theater, Oresteia is being presented in conjunction with the opening of MOCA’s exhibition Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary at MOCA Pacific Design Center. The museum even mounts the first recreation of Xenakis’s Polytope de Persepolis, adapted by German sound artist Daniel Tiege, at Los Angeles State Historic Park on Saturday.

Iannis Xenakis’ Oresteia
at The Wild Beast Pavilion and S. Mark Taper Foundation Courtyard at CalArts
24700 McBean Parkway, Valencia
Sunday, Nov. 7
4 pm
Free (open lawn seating and picnics are encouraged)

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