A doe in the headlights
January 7, 2014 § 2 Comments
Walt Disney Concert Hall. A small ensemble and a famous conductor/composer of New Music wait on stage. A trim young woman in narrow black slacks and scoop-necked black top enters holding a wireless microphone. She stops, looks around as though she’s not quite sure what she’s doing there.
The iconic conductor gives the ensemble a signal, music issues forth, and instantly the woman morphs into an assured vocalist. She sings in short, breathy phrases with dreamy concentration. At times she gestures languidly. The poignant lyrics, inspired by letters between distant lovers five centuries ago, evoke love and loss.
Her companion, foil, background is the ensemble’s lush music. Together they weave a melancholy and utterly captivating tapestry of sound.
The piece concludes and, instantly, the vocalist is again a bewildered child: stiff, uncertain of what to do or where to go until the conductor seizes her hand and leads her into a bow. They exit, but wild applause draws her back onstage where she stands in bewilderment until running off again.
The abrupt transformations astonishes me. The young woman is Julia Holter and the composition —Memory Drew Her Portrait— is hers. The piece was commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and this performance is its world premiere. Holter is a CalArts MFA with three albums who has performed on multiple continents.
Why the deer-in-the-headlights ungainliness?
The Phil’s New Music group played three other compositions that evening; their male composers had no difficulty mounting the stage or taking bows. I had hoped that by now, young women would have learned to step into their power rather than feel flummoxed by it. Can it be that women still aren’t supposed to display confidence, strength, and, yes, even pride?
I guess not.