11/16/2011 01:50 am ET | Updated Jan 14, 2012

Clap Between Movements: Can Haïm Handel LA Phil? Plus Brentano And Chiara Quartets In Santa Rosa And Houston

Just when Clap Between Movements seems to have exhausted its usefulness as a triggering topic for the relevance of classical music, along come three concerts which blast the problem to smithereens. Just keep in mind that your options are: Clap between movements, clap while the music is playing, clap only at the end of each entire piece (no matter how many movements it has), clap only at the end of the concert (including even the encores if you're a hard-liner), or don't clap at all.

In fact, the bonding mechanism that applause provides for the live concert experience is exceeded in importance only by the music itself. And don't worry about decorum or protocol; I have been at only a handful of concerts where there was 100% agreement in the hall about when to applaud. Incidentally, if you're into power trips, and are willing to experiment (and risk becoming a pariah), try being the first one to clap; you will discover that one clap is always followed by many and your self-esteem will raise a few notches.

November 17, 19 & 20
Walt Disney Concert Hall
LA Phil, conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm

Emmanuelle Haïm is one of the hottest Baroque and early music conductors on the scene today. She garners wild applause wherever she appears. When she conducts LA Phil in a George Frideric Handel program (two suites from Water Music, the first of the great Opus 12 orchestral concertos, and, with Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, one of the Italian cantatas), she will be confronted with the greatest challenge a "specialist" conductor has when faced with a big, grown-up, modern-instrument orchestra: Making them play with something resembling Baroque style (short bow strokes in the strings, nuanced inflections and quick, deft speeds). Simon Rattle once bemoaned the impossibility of getting LA Phil to play out of their comfort zone, and Esa-Pekka never tried. Even the legendary Roger Norrington couldn't make LA Phil play in the appropriate Baroque style.

It's not only LA Phil. As the longtime principal trumpeter of NY Phil recently wrote, "You'd have to be a pretty big woman or man to change the orchestra's own impression of a piece. Very few conductors could do it. Usually by the end of the week, the conductor was doing it the way we wanted it done! But they didn't know it; they thought it was all their idea!"

Clapper advice: Don't be afraid to cheer after the great, intentionally crowd-pleasing movements in the Water Music and the Concerto, but let the delicate cantata play out to its full length.

Friday, December 2
Santa Rosa, CA
Santa Rosa Junior College
Chiara String Quartet
Mozart String Quartet In G Major, K 387
Jefferson Friedman String Quartet No. 2
Debussy String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10

The opportunity to hear Jefferson Friedman's ear-bending, three-movement Second String Quartet will reduce all notions of applause to a bare minimum. Both in concept and content, Friedman's unabashedly tonal music breathes fresh new life into the string quartet with a bewildering array of influences, ranging from Bernard Herrmann (the chase music from On Dangerous Ground) to the "thanksgiving" strains of Beethoven's late quartets; they might have seemed derivative but instead they come alive as an organic component of Friedman's masterful language. And while there is some emotional seething going on at times, the composer's command of quartet materials leads to new textures, gatherings of immense power and frequent moments of ethereal beauty.

Once hooked by the live performance, check out the Chiara Quartet's spectacular recording of Friedman's Second and Third Quartets on New Amsterdam Records: Using the recordings as source material, Baltimore-based Matmos (who frequently collaborates with other artists including Björk and So Percussion), produce a compact, one-movement digest adding pulse while melodic fragments and rhythmic tags are detached from Friedman's originals to create movement and reflection.

Tuesday, December 6

Da Camera of Houston at The Menil Collection
The Brentano String Quartet
Fragments: Connecting Past and Present

The newest "project" by the brilliant Brentano String Quartet (resident at Princeton), examines how unfinished fragments by great composers of the past inspire new works by some of the most inventive composers of today. Fragments by Guillaume Dufay, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Shostakovich are paired with new works by Charles Wuorinen, Sofia Gubaidulina, John Harbison, Vijay Iyer, Bruce Adolphe and Stephen Hartke.

While completed works come down to us having been considered, reconsidered, polished and readied for presentation, glimpses into the workshop—into the process, into promising beginnings that never grew into their full selves, marble blocks that are half statue, half stone—provide a fascinating experience. As the Quartet writes, it is like "reentering abandoned imagined spaces to discover what they might suggest when examined from a fresh perspective." The resulting "hybrid creatures, traditionally mythical beasts of this persuasion, living in two worlds at once, have been believed to have magical powers."

Fragments has not been recorded yet, but there is ample consolation in the Brentano's new CD of late Beethoven Quartets (Opus 127 and 132, Aeon). In a season when Beethoven recordings are out and abounding, many of them excellent, the Brentano's is extremely fine, using the precision of the Quartet's laser-like focus to illuminate the blueprints of Beethoven's designs in tremendous detail. The sheer physical beauty of their playing electrifies everything it touches: the players, the listeners, and the music itself which the Quartet lays out along neon-lit grid lines the way Tron once was.

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