Music review: Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group at Walt Disney Concert Hall

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Downtown New York came to downtown Los Angeles as three composers from the new music collective Bang on a Can took over a Los Angeles Philharmonic Green Umbrella concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall Tuesday night.

Moreover, there is good reason to put Michael Gordon, Julia Wolfe and David Lang under the same umbrella, as it were. All three are boomers in their early 50s who grew up in the eclectic age of the phonograph, and their music heard here was solidly rooted in the minimalist aesthetic. Indeed, throughout the evening, one was struck more by their similarities than their differences.


The most stimulating piece, hands down, was Wolfe’s merrily grooving vehicle for four trap drum sets, “Dark Full Ride.” Veterans of rock and jazz concerts know that the self-indulgentdrum solo is usually the time to hit the beer lines, but Wolfe avoids all hints of boredom by exploiting countless sonic possibilities from the hi-hat cymbal set and keeping the pulse going relentlessly, thrillingly. The four drummers, captained by the remarkable Joseph Pereira, drove it hard and well.

Lang’s re-setting of the lyrics of the Lou Reed/Velvet Underground record “Heroin” is one of several recent, reverent attempts to lead iconic moments in rock into the realm of so-called high art (another is John Corigliano’s song cycle, “Mr. Tambourine Man”). Lang’s approach is one of gentle melancholy -– cello arpeggios (Gloria Lum) and sustained voice (Theo Bleckmann) accompanied by a Doug Aitken video of mostly prone young actors -– worlds away from the record’s laconic two-chord exuberance. A New Music Group string orchestra led by Jeffrey Milarsky essayed Gordon’s “Weather One” -– an always-engaging series of neo-baroque patterns and cascades with an oddly-swinging gait -– and Lang’s “Pierced” (a West Coast premiere), where angular gestures from the solo cello, piano and percussion slammed against the rustling, tremulous strings. Wolfe’s “Early That Summer” for string quartet kept introducing different ideas to repeat, one after another, before some unity was established near the end. Minimalism, however transformed in any number of accents, was always the dominant language.

–- Richard S. Ginell