As a performer, Heinz Holliger is wondrously persuasive and communicative. Technically, he can do anything with an oboe, and with piano, flute, or baton as well, never gives less than a compelling, cogent account of the music at hand.

As a composer, the Swiss musician does not grip so thoroughly. Or so it seemed Monday evening at the Japan America Theatre, where the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group presented a sampler of nine Holliger pieces spanning 24 years of composition.

Holliger is endlessly inventive in terms of sound resources and manipulations. But the extra-musical inspirations and allusions, and the expressive, emotional content that he indicated in verbal introductions were not readily audible.

“Eisblumen,” for example, is a version for seven strings, playing nothing but natural harmonics in different tunings, of a choral piece with an embedded Bach quotation. But rather than the still, chill intimation of mortality of which Holliger spoke, we heard innocuous doodling that sounded most like a parody of strings tuning.


The gap between concept and reality was less pronounced in the other ensemble piece, “Ad Marginem.” Inspired by a Klee painting, Holliger gradually moves seven strings and two flutes towards their outer pitch limits, as marked by electronic drones.

Both these works were heard in their U.S. premieres. Holliger led the capable Philharmonic contingent with quiet flair.

Ironically, two ostensibly abstract solo works sounded more openly dramatic. Holliger’s amazing control of the oboe was abundantly evident in the intense polyphony of his “Study on Multiphonics.”

“Trema” is a translation of those ideas to the viola. Longer by half than the “Study,” it proved again that more is less, although Dale Hikawa’s bravura heroics maintained interest in the non-stop bowing exercise.


Holliger described his “Lieder ohne Worte” (Songs without Words) as “cryptograms,” and that they were. Violinist Mark Kashper, with Holliger at the piano, produced remarkably tight duo playing without decoding the music for the audience. The fragments of melody and attenuated silences were marred by stertorous contributions from the air-conditioning.

The Duo for Violin and Cello, on the other hand, is a straightforward piece of Haus-musik. Mark Baranov and Ronald Leonard supplied the respective parts with appropriately earnest energy.

Solos for Holliger completed the bill. “Lied” showed us that a reasonably uninhibited man can make a wide variety of unusual sounds on an amplified flute. The “Study II” again displayed Holliger’s oboe prowess, this time lyrically. “Elis,” three nocturnes for piano, sounded most like Holliger’s mentor, Pierre Boulez.