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Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Is Disney Hall Ready For an Evening of Uncensored Frank Zappa?

Photo courtesy the Zappa Estate
Frank Zappa

When an orchestra celebrates a milestone, it premieres a new composition. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the L.A. Philharmonic's home, Walt Disney Concert Hall, works were commissioned from big-shot composers such as Magnus Lindberg, Peter Lieberson, and Brett Dean. But another world premiere there this month is stealing attention from these classical music luminaries -- the first full performance of Frank Zappa's musical dramatic work, 200 Motels, this Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Zappa may strike some as an odd person to invite to the party, but for years he was a significant local presence. When conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen (who will conduct Wednesday's performance) arrived here in 1991, the maverick composer was one of the first L.A. musicians to reach out to him.
More directly, in 1970 the L.A. Philharmonic and its conductor, Zubin Mehta, joined forces with Zappa and a reboot of the Mothers of Invention to premiere a chunk of 200 Motels alongside compositions by the dean of CalArts, Mel Powell, and by Zappa's hero, Varese. Powell -- more widely known at the time as the former pianist and arranger of Benny Goodman's Swing Era band -- was so outraged by Zappa and his band that he stormed out of the venue with the tape part to his own Immobiles 1-4, preventing its premiere.
Powell, who had renounced writing jazz in favor of genteel atonal concert music, later described "his revulsion at the wretched debasement of new music." Powell didn't get Zappa's satirical deflation of Jim Morrison's Oedipal pretension "The End." When Zappa's band interpolated excerpts from Stravinsky's Agon or Varese's Integrales, Powell heard a "mockery of art." Zappa intended these as friendly tributes to his two compositional idols. (When a fan whistled during the Integrales quote, Zappa sternly admonished, "Shut up, you idiot!")
If Powell (and most critics present) couldn't pick up on those jokes and homages, how could he possibly appreciate 200 Motels' satirical depictions of a rock band's life on the road and Zappa's scathing portrayal of Small Town, U.S.A.?
200 Motels treated prejudice and sexual yearning with graphic and accurate language; publicity for the concert warns of "mature subject matter; we're not kidding." Back then, critics dismissed Zappa's texts as puerile smut. Similar charges were leveled against transgressive writers such as Jean Genet, William Burroughs and Terry Southern, but critics extolled their merits. When self-taught composer and librettist Zappa used the same literary techniques, no one came to his defense.
Today, scholars such as Ben Watson and Kelly Fisher Lowe defend Zappa's subject material, language, and idiosyncratic music. Two generations of composers have come under his influence as well, including Matt Marks. Marks will act and sing the role played by Mark Volman in the film and soundtrack versions of 200 Motels.

Read on...

The Lost Broadcasts
DVD - £9.99

The Interview Sessions
CD - £9.99

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