Van der Aa: Oog for cello and soundtrack
Salonen: Laughing Unlearnt
Matthews: Bassoonova (world premiere)
Adès: Darknesse Visible
Hyla: Detour Ahead (world premiere)
Reich: New York Counterpoint
Who would have imagined that an
evening of moderately daunting contemporary music would summon a crowd
of what appeared to be some 1,200 people in the new Walt Disney Concert
Hall? A cynical companion suggested that since many of the more easy-to-approach
evenings were sold out, some people just wanted to see the inside of
the building. (No doubt this is true.) But if the audience were composed
primarily of just the curious, then the curious were a remarkably well-behaved
and attentive bunch during a concert that was perhaps not the easiest
for new music novices to assimilate.
So kudos to Steven Stucky, consulting
composer for this series, for programming this daring line-up during
the hallís first few days, featuring some of the Los Angeles Philharmonicís
outstanding principal players in repertoire they probably donít get
to perform that often. This intimate affair also contrasted beautifully
with the Mahler
storm that rocked the space over the weekend.
I confess that only one work really
grabbed me by the shirt collar: the opening Oog, by Dutch composer
Michel van der Aa, given a smashing performance by Peter Stumpf. With
the cello "in an almost masochistic fight with the tape,"
Stumpf piled on many extended techniques (e.g., thumping the base of
the instrument) to produce a completely engaging dialogue with the electronic
soundtrack. And as in the Reich at the end of the evening, the electronics
sounded terrific in the room.
In Salonenís spoken preface to
Laughing Unlearnt, written after 9/11, he expressed some hesitation
that the pieceís sober tone might not be all that appropriate for such
a celebratory week of music, but his fears were unfounded and the piece
transcended its origins. The Philharmonicís elegant, hardworking concertmaster,
Martin Chalifour, fresh from his triumphant solo turns in the Mahler,
brought out the workís elegiac spirit, and many in the audience seemed
to like it the best of the six.
Iím afraid that despite my enthusiasm
for Colin Matthews and Lee Hyla, I didnít much care for their premieres,
despite the excellent playing by David Breidenthal (bassoon) and Dennis
Trembly (bass), respectively. Matthews has some sensational works under
his belt, like Hidden Variables, and Hylaís We Speak Etruscan
is marvelous. But these works almost seemed a bit modest, next to Mr.
van der Aaís imaginative sensibility. And to be absolutely fair, the
two soloists, each of whom did some brilliant work in the Mahler, may
have needed to project a bit more -- to be more "out there"
in the new space. It is possible that the pieces themselves would be
more effective in a slightly smaller venue.
I couldnít help but notice in
Joanne Pearce Martinís biography that she adores flying and sky-diving,
which must explain her enthusiasm in Thomas Adèsí Darknesse
Visible, which uses a John Dowland lute song "In Darknesse
Let Mee Dwell" (1610). If I didnít quite "hear" the gimmick
at first -- the composer has removed some of Dowlandís notes
-- I found it an intriguing experiment that would probably grow more
so with repeated listening, and Martinís intensity gave it a quiet glow.
As a fine closer, clarinetist
Lorin Levee gave a polished performance of one of Reichís minimalist
classics, New York Counterpoint, in which a live clarinet is
combined with the same performer who has pre-recorded ten additional
clarinets on tape. At least one friend found the result numbing and
irritating. But as a fan of Reichís explorations, I enjoyed what Levee
found in the score, and again, his live instrument and the taped ones
seemed to rejoice in their overlapping and intertwining lines.
The hall looked terrific, with
the white light in the upper corners of the ceiling changed to bright
green for the occasion. Floating at different heights above the stage
were seven green umbrellas, looking very Magritte-esque in Gehryís slightly