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POP MUSIC

Sharing the thought

Grizzly Bear and the L.A. Philharmonic work toward a meeting of musical minds in a Disney Hall program.

March 03, 2008|John Payne | Special to The Times

As a means of building a bridge between the "serious" realm of classical music and contemporary pop styles, Saturday's double billing of the L.A. Philharmonic and indie post-post-rock band Grizzly Bear couldn't have been a better match.

An opening portion of the program featured the Phil in selections of classical works that had been chosen by the band or recommended to Grizzly's members by the orchestra's music director.

"It seemed like it was appropriate, because our records have a certain orchestral sweep to them," said Grizzly guitarist-singer Daniel Rossen in the green room before the show. "We certainly don't work like composers work, but there's a certain amount of layering, and some comparisons could be made. The director of the Phil listened to our records, and we sort of talked about not pieces that inspired us but things that we've liked and pieces we didn't know but sounded interesting, like it would fit the mood of what we do."

Under associate conductor Joana Carneiro's thrillingly athletic direction, the orchestra offered stylistically varied works by Boccherini, Berio and Britten and a truly socko suite from Stravinsky's "The Firebird," at the conclusion of which the mostly younger audience leapt to its feet and roared its approval.

"The Firebird" was chosen by Grizzly Bear "because that's a piece that we've all loved since we were kids," said Rossen, "and it's just a great, dynamic piece of music."

Rossen found choosing the orchestra's program an intriguing process. "I grew up here, and I saw the L.A. Phil a bunch of times, so it's kind of fun being able to tell them what to do," he said, laughing.

He emphasized that while his own interests in the classical field might at times dovetail with the experimental folk/rock/electronic fabric of his own band, "We're all very amateur, and we don't really know what we're doing, so it seems pretentious to say, 'This is informing what we do.' It's really only because we love it."

Yet invariably his fascination with a vast array of non-rock genres crept into the way he devises songs of a roughly experimental rock hue. "There were composers that I loved growing up," Rossen said, citing "Olivier Messiaen, Leonard Bernstein's symphonic stuff, Shostakovich quartets and jazz, pop and orchestral music of the '30s, '40s and '50s. Then things like Van Dyke Parks and his collaborations with the Beach Boys."

He described Messiaen's elegiac "Quartet for the End of Time" as music akin to his own. "Very emotional music that was also very moving chordally, was interesting formally," he said. "But it wasn't 'conceptual,' like Schoenberg. There was a piece by Leonard Bernstein called 'Serenade for Strings and Percussion,' which was just really dynamic -- really emotional but really harmonically interesting music. There was also Boulez and Stockhausen and more conceptual music going on around then, but there was also this more accessible sort of crossover music that was conceptual music but very emotional music. I really loved that."

As if to demonstrate how the conceptual and emotional strengths of modern classical works can be mined for equally resonant effect in music of a more contemporary arrangement, Grizzly Bear's set for the second half of the Disney Hall program was an exercise in diverse dynamics, texture and atmosphere.

Shimmering with echoing flute, guitar and layered voices, the Brooklyn-based band's opening "Easier" set a tone of subdued, wistful mood interpolated with hints of explosive passion. Amid the looped bass resonance and close harmonies of "Alligator" and "Lullabye," the close listener might have detected structural gambits similar to the movements of a symphony, segueing by subtle shifts in the fabric of arrangement or with sudden, surprising changes cued by Keith Moon-like drummer Christopher Bear.

It was the band's judicious use of dynamics, from thunderous to gossamer, in songs such as "Little Brother" and "Service Bell" that gave its airy vocal harmonies such chillingly sweet effect; though they played it straighter on the lovely, poignant "Deep Blue Sea," the autoharp, clarinet and electric piano-colored "Marla" and "Knife" suggested a blend of doo-wop, Gregorian chant and twangy surf tunes.

Grizzly Bear comprises four strong characters, each seemingly unique and indispensable to the band's intricate weave of sound, each handling the often unfamiliar emotions evoked by such sonic admixtures with intelligence and refinement -- a bit like classical musicians.

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