As regular readers of LACO’s blogs” know, our season opener this weekend includes a recent work by the Orchestra’s new composer-in-residence, Andrew Norman, whose The Great Swiftness was inspired by the epic Alexander Calder sculpture La Grande Vitesse. Forged in Tours, France from 42 tons of steel, the work was commissioned by the city of Grand Rapids, and its 27 separate pieces were welded together on the civic center plaza in 1969. It was the first American work of public art to be directly funded in part by federal money, under the fledgling National Endowment for the Art’s Art in Public Places program. Norman was born in Grand Rapids, and when he was invited 30 years later to compose a new work thematically related to the city’s annual ArtPrize competition, he set as his task translating Calder’s vibrant red, three-dimensional abstraction into sound. In this video, you can view images of La Grande Vitesse and hear Norman discuss its musical namesake.
Here in Los Angeles, another Calder work – a sort of fraternal twin to La Grande Vitesse – is extremely familiar to LACO staffers, since it is located just across the street from our World Trade Center offices. The 63-foot Four Arches (pictured), also composed of steel and painted “Calder red,” was installed in 1974 on the plaza in front of downtown’s Security Pacific Bank (now Bank of America), the first office tower on Bunker Hill. Most of us walk under these iconic arches at least once a day, occasionally traipsing through a film location (or crowd of protesters) in the process. Like anything we encounter on a daily basis, even historic feats of art and engineering like Four Arches can become mundane, especially when I’m late for work or in a hurry to get to the ATM. (And I’d bet Grand Rapids’ city hall workers don’t give La Grande Vitesse half a thought most of the time, either.) But in a city that offers so much incredible architecture and public art – and in a climate in which it can be enjoyed year-round – it seems like a terrible waste of ingenuity not to slow down occasionally and really take it in. For more photos and background on the bold public artwork to be found across LA, check out Public Art in Los Angeles and plan a sight-seeing trip for your next staycation.
In the meantime, this weekend you can find out what one composer “hears” in Calder’s massive Michigan sculpture, when LACO gives the West Coast premiere of Andrew Norman’s The Great Swiftness at the Alex Theatre and Royce Hall on October 6 & 7.