Debate topic: Zappa and the Philharmonic

Mark Swed's Jan. 7 LAT review of an L.A. Philharmonic performance of pieces with an urban theme said, among other things:

In between came Frank Zappa's 'Dupree's Paradise.' Short, diverting and typically cynical, it is meant to evoke a Watts bar in the wee hours of the morning in 1964. Here anything really goes, although the score, a Zappa tune given a bit of Varèsean oomph in its orchestration, was actually the tamest-sounding music all evening.

Today, Los Angeles writer Rip Rense offers a few alternative points:

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the L.A. Philharmonic just ended a nearly 38-year drought of playing the music of Frank Zappa. You wouldn’t know this from reading the L.A. Times review....

The last time the L.A. Philharmonic ventured anything of Zappa’s, I think, was the notorious “200 Motels” collaboration of 1970 at Pauley Pavilion, gamely taken on by Zubin Mehta. Orchestra members burped, grunted, shuffled their feet, and threw confetti as part of the score. Frank’s cue, “Hit it, Zubin,” still hangs in the air.

L.A. Times music critic Mark Swed did not note this rather amazing turn of events in his Jan. 7 review of the concert, which also included works by Copland, Crumb, and Varese. He did not mention the dry spell, or the LAPO premiere. But then, Swed has never written, to my knowledge, about the fact that the Phil has ignored this L.A. composer for 37 years. Never mind that many of Zappa’s orchestral works have been conducted and recorded by Kent Nagano, Pierre Boulez, Ensemble Modern, and performed by orchestras around the world.

After all, this is Frank Zappa we’re talking about, not Arnold Schoenberg, or some trendy Ivy League-educated composer working from a commission. This is the man who employs "Louie Louie" as a kind of leitmotiv pervading his oeuvre, whether rock, jazz, or orchestral.


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