Reviews of shows from the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and other local venues published by the Los Cerritos Community News. The writer and paper are in their twentieth year of covering these events.

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Location: Fear City, Ca., United States

"My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre - as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field." George Sanders in "All About Eve"

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Gonzalo Bergara Quartet March 22, 2012

Gonzalo Bergara Quartet/Quintet Makes it Sierra Club Hot

                         By Glen Creason

      I am not proud to admit I knew nothing of the Gonzalo Bergara “quartet” before their sold-out concert in the Sierra Room this week and can’t believe I waited this long to hear such exciting and superbly textured music. If you appreciate the incredible recordings of the great gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt or the sizzling violin excursions of Stephane Grappelli you will have found a contemporary source of such sweet sounds coming from this international group based right here in the southland. What makes this even more wonderful for lovers of real roots music and authentic jazz is that this quartet was less one member and instead of the powerhouse horns of Rob Hardt, they used the electrifying violin of Leah Zeger. Now, on any other stage within the use of human ears this young lady would dwarf the talent around her. However, this band is lead by Gonzalo Bergara, a young Argentine guitar virtuoso who takes a back seat to no one I have heard in my eighteen years of covering shows at the big hall. Bergara is ably assisted by another gypsy flavored rhythm guitarist Jeff Radaich and Brian Netzley on a souped up double bass but on this night the combination of the violin and lead guitar made this music soar and swing like it was 1935 in Paris again.
     If Bergara has a flaw it is that he does not play for reviewers and thus is pretty loose on identifying songs which said reviewers might rave about and get folks to buy. Then again, who listens to reviewers? Yet, this is music to hear live and it really did warm the soul to hear the tight harmonies and fiery solos that took these compositions to places where few can dare or have the skills to express. To be truly compared to Django and Stephane is about as high a compliment as any musician can garner. On the very fine night at Cerritos the show was opened in ear and eyes by what may have been “Portena Soledad” that sent a current of le jazz hot through the jam-packed Sierra room and set the pace for much to come. A Django Reinhardt tune followed with the appropriate nod to the inspiration for this lively style of jazz and the temperatures only cooled slightly in the lyrical “February,” one of several swinging months penned by Bergara for his recent albums. “Agridulce” showed a little Brazilian flavor but when the group returned to America for “It Had to Be You” the beautiful Ms. Zeger showed a voice to match her superb violin. Sadly the young lady left the stage but the spirited playing of “Como Una Flor” was bittersweet along with the page turning to “November” that was totally cool.
     The second half had some surprises and plenty of high octane gypsy jazz that began with three tunes from the first album and a short return to an old Nat King Cole hit “L-O-V-E” that Jeff Radaich did a fine job on with his family cheering him on. Another cool month was represented in “October” with a silky lyricism and Bergara’s meticulous guitar weaving an enchanting spell but just warming up to the tour de force performance of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” that could only have been done by a master. The many fans of gypsy melodies got a treat with “Czardas de Monte” where Leah Zeder’s exquisitely played delicate middle passage had folks actually swooning in the audience. They kept swooning and swinging for the sensual and evocative “La Muerte De Un Lobo Bueno” following by a dynamic remembrance of Django Reinhardt’s evergreen “Nuages” that left the band with many satisfied fans and many new ones. The Readers Digest version of this review is that anyone who hears this band will love them and be amazed at the levels of musicianship on stage.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Juilliard String Quartet March 17, 2012

Juilliard String Quartet at Cerritos: Slightly New, Classically Perfect

                                      By Glen Creason

     The Juilliard String Quartet is so accomplished and so renowned that their style and commitment to the form is the gold standard in the field. These esteemed musicians never shrink from a challenge and never give less than total dedication to the meticulously chosen pieces of music they choose to perform. It is safe to say that in their long career, even longer than I have had ears to hear a stringed instrument, they have covered almost every period and style of classical music known to vibrate from the violin and cello. With a blustery Saturday night outside the Performing Arts Center the quartet warmed a rapt Cerritos audience with three extremely challenging works by two of the greatest names in music and a modern American composer who was shown to have a strong voice from the modern era. There was also some excitement for aficionados of the Juilliard Quartet since this was the introduction of the newest member, young Joseph Lin who certainly demonstrated that he upholds the high standards of  this august group. It seems to be a great year in New York for young men named Lin.
     The evening began with one of Franz Josef Haydn’s later Quartets, the Quartet in G major, Opus 54, No. 1 which was composed in the mid 1780’s after he had already established himself as the master of the form and one of the most celebrated artists in Europe. The piece in four parts was a perfect example of why Haydn was so popular in his time and through the following centuries. The beginning “Allegro” was so bright and lyrical it practically induced the audience to tap their feet. The Allegretto was then rather stately, measured with the tone of the lead violin of Joseph Lin sounding like spun gold. The light dance melody of the “Menuetto” was enhanced by the crisp interplay of the four instruments and the concluding presto was downright playful with its repeated motive that demanded perfect timing within the group. While the Juilliard Quartet has performed thousands of concerts they sounded fresh and full of energy throughout.
     Donald Martino’s contemporary “Quartet No. 5” was completely different in almost every way with its atonal language and twelve-tone row as theme. The piece is written in a traditional format but the presentation is powerfully emotional, especially in the “Presto” with a jagged, arresting theme that is filled with the plucking of the instruments that seem to speak to one another. After a lengthy and mournful “Adagio” the quartet revisited the previous themes in the final “Allegro” that really allowed the artists to stretch out their chops.
     The final offering of the concert was the magnificent “Quartet in B-flat major, Opus 130 with Grosse Fuge Opus 133” by Ludwig van Beethoven. This is a composition that just doesn’t want to stop and after the traditional four parts where every human emotion seems to get expressed the grand fuge finale throbs with passion and complexity that shows the four months of struggle Beethoven put into this work. A microcosm of the entire concert was the absolutely exquisite playing of Joseph Lin on the “Cavatina,” the penultimate component of the piece. The quartet lifted the young Lin up and he made these few minutes in an already wonderful concert as memorable as any you will hear anywhere, anytime.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

MozArt Group March 8, 2012

MozArt Group at Cerritos: Sophisticated Unsophistication

                         By Glen Creason

     Many in the audience at the Performing Arts Center did not know what to expect out of the group MozArt that was billed as “taking a unique approach to Classical compositions.” Did this mean playing them one-handed or while dancing a tango or by making musical sounds with their cheeks? Or might it suggest riotously up-tempo, changed tempo, mixed with Jazz or Rock or Bluegrass twists of great compositions. The answer is yes, to all of those. Somewhere, someone also compared them to Victor Borge, the utterly hilarious musician/comedian who once sat at the Steinway on the Cerritos stage and brought the house down. Yet, I must say neither the first description nor the comparison to the great Borge comes close to the wildly inventive and most certainly hilarious evening of hi-jinks these four highly creative Polish artists put on display at the Center. Filip Jaslar, Lodz Michal Sikorski, and Pawel Kowaluk where the jesters on violin along with Bolek Blaszczyk who was in charge of the cello and consecutive surname consonants. All thoughts of some seriousness were dispelled in the opening send up of Beethoven played with yee haw, yodeling, Fiddler on the Roof fiddling and Latin bravado all in the same five minute burst while they donned appropriate headgear.
     Later they expanded the limits of any kind of music, playing Strauss waltzes in a 1950’s rock and roll style with violins turned into tiny guitars handled Elvis style and forged some “Scheherazade” into a Cha Cha Cha with foot percussion. This blended into a fine string quartet reading of “Fur Elise” played with all four men keeping a hand in their pockets until the violins and cello started into a Scott Joplin Rag, followed by “La Bamba” and “Eine Kleine Nachtmusic” with just lashing bows that placed a paraph on the final notes by forming the Z for Zorro! Well, yes, you sort of had to be there and this was just a small part of the action packed ninety minutes of humorous creativity.
    Not all of the inspiration was Classical and we got to see the theme from “Titanic” played as the liner rocked back and forth ready to sink, Chopin blended into a drum solo turned into a Fred Astaire dance tune and even the “Concerto de Aranjuez” somehow ended up being played Russian style. To say there was more is an understatement as gags piled upon one another and inspirations arrived from all over genre and geographies. A terrific number with red lights on bow tips on a darkened stage astounded and Abba, the Beatles, “Carmen,” John Philip Sousa, Heavy Metal, “Rhapsody in Blue” whistled, Rap, Papa Haydn and stately Elgar were played in rapid succession. Even “Ave Maria” was played with a dentists drill and screaming patient. Really, you HAD to be there to believe this stuff and everybody was laughing. The encores came in triplicate with the ensemble playing while encased in casts, singing “O Solo Mio” with audience participation and a spirited “When the Saints Go Marching In” that gave the audience a chance to stand and cheer, then cheer some more.  Turns out MozArt was even better than advertised.