Live with the LA Philharmonic
By Ivan Dryer, President, Laserium
In its season calendar last fall, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced its plan to perform Alexander Scriabin's Prometheus: Poem of Fire with "special lighting design." I wrote the Executive Director and set up a demo at Griffith Observatory, which was a success. We were contracted to perform on January 16, 18 and 19, pending another successful demo at the Music Center for renowned conductor Essa Pekka Salonen.
At that time, a debate about losing most of the rear back wall acoustic panels in favor of the big RP screen was quashed by Salonen, who said "I'll sacrifice the acoustics for that look!" "That look" was a battery of 18 lumia effects generated by a Laserium CSL Projector and two Coherent Argon/Krypton lasers combining for 10+ watts (and burning some mirrors and wheels in the process). Lumia were chosen to approximate Scriabin's rather vague instructions for color washes to accompany the music - he actually wrote a line in the score for a light performer, who was intended to be an onstage member of the orchestra.
Our light performer was long-time Laserist and choreographer Steve Shapiro, who as far as we know was the first to be featured as Scriabin wished: onstage in tux, tails and white tie. During rehearsals, Steve was called out by Salonen for performance nuances, along with the violins, trumpets, woodwinds, etc. He was highly honored to be directed like everyone else. Before each performance, Salonen introduced Steve and explained Scriabin's gift (or affliction?) of synesthesia, which is the triggering of a second sense (like sight) by a stimulus to another sense (like sound). Scriabin saw specific color wavelengths for specific musical keys. Unfortunately, his intentions for the notes in the score are indecipherable because there are so many keys operating simultaneously! Accordingly, Steve choreographed his arsenal of colors and effects to his interpretation of the score (just like we always do, no?).
Following the musical dynamics, he played his MIDI controller and beam torquer, sometimes furiously, to elicit color, form and speed changes to match the continuous ebb and flow of Scriabin's complex tone poem. Behind the scenes was Tim Barrett, who would kick in the second laser for the crescendos, which are mighty and many. At the finale, Salonen added two banks of white landing lights to reach a blinding level not even 10 watts of laser power could approach. The audiences gave standing ovations, and Steve was asked to take a bow along with the piano soloist and other featured artists. He said it was a "peak experience"
More text about "Prometheus", Scriabin and our very early involvement with his music (pre-Laserium) is available on our Web site (www.laserium.com), which the Phil was kind enough to excerpt in the program notes. When it was all over, a representative of the L.A. Opera took my card. So maybe we'll be back at the Music Center for another adventure with fine music.
Contact: Ivan Dryer