FIGHTING AN URGE to think about how it is somehow a comment on our society that our higher education systems find it easier to build gymnasiums and sports arenas than concert halls or amphitheaters--and, when they do have culture, cram it in among the bleachers--I took my seat in Pauley Pavilion, the super-gym at U.C.L.A. where Joni Mitchell recently appeared in concert with the Philharmonic orchestra.
Maybe it was the artistry of all concerned, or maybe I was just sitting close enough to hear, but it all came off surprisingly well.
The concert was the climax of an all-day open house marking the 50th anniversary of U.C.L.A., where visitors were offered a chance to see everything from the military science department's collection of weapons captured from the Viet Cong to "demonstrations of experimental techniques on heart profusion, bat electron microscopy of cells and tissues."
[That's from the hand-out brochure; I must admit that I didn't go to either. And if you want to know what "echolocation" is, you're on your own.]
Among other happenings were lectures on cancer and excavations in Macedonia; karate, modern dance, and surfing demonstrations; tours of the campus in French, Spanish, or German; folk foods for sampling; an exhibit of "studies of head and neck trauma"; and last, but not least, 50 grams of moon rock fragment, four U.C.L.A. examiners' share of the 48 pounds brought back from the Sea of Tranquility.[Maybe Lamar Hunt will build his Apollo 11 Disneyland on campus here since it now looks as the San Francisco won't let him do it on Alcatraz after all.]
Meanwhile, back at the concert...
The program was one intended to bridge gaps, between generations as well as musical breeds, and it did its job well.
To begin with, Joni is one of the most melodic folk-composers writing today, and the three songs she did with the orchestra slid beautifully into their new arrangements, the strings in particular complementing Joni's voice and still-audible guitar.
The presence of an under-30 guest conductor on the podium--Lawrence Foster, assistant conductor to the Philharmonic here from 1965 to 1967 and now permanent guest conductor of the Royal Philharmonic orchestra in London--also helped greatly.
The orchestra's part of the program, moreover, contained two 20th century American selections which have themes derived mainly from folk or popular music: Aaron Copeland's "El Salon Mexico" and Charles Ives' "Three Places in New England." and even the opening number, Bach's Orchestra Suite No. 3 in D Major, contains the popular"Air for G String" [I remember what fun we had with that one in 6th grade music appreciation class].
Joni, truly lovely in a bright red floor-length gown, sang nine songs alone in addition to the three with the orchestra. [She called them "my band" following her first number, and later, while tuning, said, "Oh, well, that's good enough for symphony music."]
The audience knew her works well, greeting new songs that she does only in concert [and not on her two albums] with applause after only a few bars.
The best of these were "Who," which she did with the orchestra; "Real Good for Free," about a street-corner musician; a terrific song about Woodstock; and "Willie," describing a love "so new it's hard to tell/if it's wrong or real/but you're bound to lose/If you let the blues/get you afraid to feel./And I feel/like I've just been born." Songs like that can bridge all kinds of gaps.