William Kraft is quite blunt about expressing his philosphy: "I'm a humanist. I'm a pacifist. I'm for peace in the world. And I didn't want to hide those feelings behind abstract music. I wanted to be more articulate in what I'm saying."

Thus, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's former composer-in-residence has written his second anti-war piece, "Contextures II: The Final Beast," with a text drawn from Scott Bates' anthology of war-resistance poems. The 35-minute work will receive its premiere by the Philharmonic this week at the Music Center with Andre Previn conducting, assisted by singers Mary Rawcliffe and Jonathan Mack, the early-music New Albion Ensemble and the Pasadena Boys Choir.

"It's the biggest piece I've written, but I'm not going to say it's my magnum opus," Kraft said from Pittsburgh, where he was serving as guest conductor at a new-music concert. The piece begins with an overlap of 11 measures from "Contextures I: Riots Decade '60," given its premiere by the Philharmonic in 1968. "Right after I finished that first piece," Kraft said, "I began years of searching out texts for the second part. And then I found Bates' anthology.

"This second work has a sad ending. I wanted to make people feel. We've become numbed by television," he said. His "Riots Decade '60" combined music with projected news footage. "You can watch the Vietnam War on TV and not feel anything. People have become removed from the real pain of war."

Yet, will sung texts make the desired full impression on first hearing? "The vocal parts have to stand on their own--I'm saying something very specific here. My hope is that the way I said it will be understood. I wish everyone would read the texts before the performance."

Though the performances on Thursday, Friday and next Sunday are listed as premieres, the work has actually surfaced already in a chamber version. "Study for 'Contextures II' " was played by the Philharmonic New Music Group in 1984. "Most of the poems were in that version," Kraft said. "That arrangement gave me the opportunity to study the music, although it really was not presented as a study piece. I think the two versions are comparable."

Now that the Philharmonic-commissioned "Final Beast" (the title refers to Stephen Crane's description of Death) is complete, Kraft has one more promised work for the orchestra. Any chance of a "Contextures III"? The composer-in-residence at Chapman College chuckled. "No, now I'll go back to having fun again."

NAME THAT TUNE: OK, concertgoers, clean off your desks, write your name at the top of a blank page and get ready for a pop quiz--Henri Temianka and his California Chamber Virtuosi are taking you back to school.

Saturday night in Smothers Theater at Pepperdine University, Temianka and musicians, joined by musicologist Nicholas Slonimsky, will devote the first half of their concert to a musical quiz. "We won't be using familiar melodies," Temianka said. "Our audiences have proven themselves to be sophisticated. We won't try to stump them--just challenge them."

The concept, he said, originated with, of all people, Maurice Ravel, who led a guessing-game concert in 1911. One work evidently proved particularly tricky to that Parisian audience--Ravel's "Valses Nobles et Sentimentales," offered in its first performance. "They guessed everyone but Ravel," said Temianka. "He was particularly pleased that no one could identify the composer."

Record albums will serve as prizes on Saturday. As with every test of wits, Temianka is prepared to deal with an age-old problem. "Oh yes," he said resignedly, "I'm sure there will be cheating."

TRILINGUAL OPERA: This week gives opera lovers the rare opportunity to hear Puccini's "La Boheme" in three languages.

On Tuesday and Thursday at Cal State Northridge, six members of the Shanghai Opera House and Central Opera Theatre will sing the principal roles in Chinese, with the remainder of the opera sung in English. The singers are be in residence at Northridge for two weeks, as part of an unprecedented exchange program, the result of six years of negotiations between the People's Republic of China and the university.

In June, a contingent of Northridge singers will travel to Shanghai and Beijing to sing with opera companies there. English-language-only performances at Northridge will take place Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

The Thursday bilingual performance, sponsored by the China Institute, will benefit the university's Asian-American Arts Fund, which supports similar multicultural events.

For those who prefer to hear "La Boheme" in its original Italian, Opera Pacific presents three more performances this week at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa--with English supertitles.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World