Music review: Smashing violin and ‘Pierrot’ at the L.A. Phil’s ‘Green Umbrella’


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When it comes time for “Green Umbrella,” the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s bold, bright and long-standing new-music series, the spotlight is typically on music of our time. On Tuesday at Walt Disney Concert Hall, however, it was time to pay homage to a nearly 100-year-old classic. This was the night of “Pierrot.”

Schoenberg’s greatly influential chamber work, “Pierrot Lunaire,” circa 1912, fascinates still. Tuesday’s visit confirmed its fresh appeal, as played with properly chilled panache by a sextet conducted by Stefan Asbury and featuring incisively expressive soprano Kiera Duffy. Whether limning melodies or exercising the composer’s signature semi-singing “Sprechstimme,” Duffy beautifully captured the magic, abandon and melancholy in Schoenberg’s 21 miniatures, from “Mondestrunken (`Moondrunk’)” to the final line “O, ancient scent from far-off days” -- now somehow relevant to the venerable opus itself.

Despite its age, “Pierrot” is anything but a war horse. One of the earliest proto-Modernist masterpieces, along with “Rite of Spring,” “Pierrot” helped pry open the 20th century’s exploratory musical spirit. Ripples of its influence extend through much of contemporary music, subtly or in affectionately explicit ways, as with Tuesday’s other featured piece, Peter Maxwell Davies’ crazily engaging “Eight Songs for a Mad King.”


Inspired by imagined mental ramblings of “mad” King George III, Davies’ 1969 tour de force lends the lead role to a necessarily game, flexible baritone. This performance had one in Thomas Meglioranza. His virtuosic part, teetering between primal sounds, Modernist gestures and Baroque swipes, ranges from abstraction to lamentation to personal implosion and requires him to steal and then smash a violin (belonging to the gamely befuddled Bing Wang). Meglioranza embedded a fine madness.

Opening the evening on a more modestly scaled note was Slovenian-born composer Vinko Globokar’s “Corporel for Solo Percussion” (“corporel” refers to “corporeal,” relating to the body). More accurately, the title could read “for Solo Percussionist,” as all the sounds are generated by a lone, intrepid, shirtless and barefoot percussionist (here, the sharp Joseph Pereira), minus any external instruments. Beating and rubbing his body and making oral/vocal sounds (including snoring), Pereira was a self-contained solo ensemble.

Beyond the absurdist audacity and droll theatricality, Globokar’s work challenges concert music assumptions. That’s just one thing it has in common with the mighty “Pierrot.”

-- Josef Woodard

Upper photo: Thomas Meglioranza smashes a violin at Tuesday’s ‘Green Umbrella’ concert. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez

Lower photo: Joseph Pereira performs Corporel for Solo Percussion.” Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez