Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' Violin Concerto--written for Isaac Stern and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London and first performed in June, 1986, with Andre Previn conducting--gets its first U.S. hearing this week.
A commission from the RPO on the occasion of the ensemble's 40th birthday, Davies' Violin Concerto arrives Thursday in Los Angeles, with Stern and Previn repeating their roles and the Los Angeles Philharmonic claiming the orchestral part. In April, Stern takes the piece East, where his collaborators will be conductor Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic.
Davies has said he composed the work with the Orkney Islands' St. Magnus Festival and its principal hall, which he describes as "the awe-inspiring 12th-Century Cathedral of St. Magnus," in mind. "The music is pervaded by sounds of sea and sea-birds. Its acoustics took into account the natural resonance of the building, and its rhythms and melodies show Scottish origins."
Last week, on the phone from Cleveland where he was preparing to play a benefit concert with the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, Stern spoke about Davies' 33-minute concerto.
"Yes, it's true," Stern said, "and you will hear what Davies says about the Scottish influence--there is a bit of a Scottish reel, then later what sounds like folk songs that will remind you of Kentucky mountain songs, or Copland, or Bernstein--two composers who have used that same source.
"But the harmonizations, and the harmonic ideas, are quite complex. Those are Davies' ideas."
Stern says the composer did not consult him until actual preparations for the first performance.
"When I deal with composers--like Penderecki, Dutilleux or Rochberg, all of whom have written pieces for me in the last few years--I never want to say anything until after the work is completed.
"I believe a composer should be able to express himself in the strongest way possible before the work gets to me. One shouldn't impose, ever.
"What one can do, after the composer asks, is give him the benefit of your knowledge or experience, helping him reconstitute his ideas, if necessary, through the prism of the performer's abilities."
The concerto is the centerpiece of the Philharmonic's three subscription concerts this weekend, when Previn also conducts Brahms' "Tragic" Overture and Beethoven's Symphony No. 6. Performances are Thursday through Saturday nights at 8 in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
A "PIERROT LUNAIRE" FOR THE NEXT CENTURY: Beginning Feb. 1, the Arnold Schoenberg Institute at USC will present the results of a unique set of commissions: the first settings in a new series of works based on the poems by Albert Guiraud used by Schoenberg in "Pierrot Lunaire."
As is well known, Schoenberg set 21 of the 50 Guiraud poems (translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben) for his landmark work of 1912. Now, under a program called "The Pierrot Project," the institute has commissioned from 15 American composers settings of the remaining 29 poems to honor the 75th anniversary of Schoenberg's famous song cycle.
The first of three concerts presenting these new works takes place Feb. 1 at the institute. The San Francisco Chamber Players, conducted by Jean-Louis LeRoux and with mezzo-soprano Miriam Abramowitsch as soloist, will give the premiere performances of 6 of the 15 pieces, those written by Milton Babbitt, John Harbison, Richard Hoffmann, Karl Kohn, William Kraft and Mel Powell.
On this program, the same forces--the instrumentation specified in the commissions is the same one used by Schoenberg: voice with violin, viola, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and piano--will perform Schoenberg's original setting of "Pierrot Lunaire." Remaining concerts in the series will be given at the institute in November.
SAN FRANCISCO BALLET: Opening its 55th season with a gala performance Saturday night in War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco Ballet then offers 69 repertory performances Feb. 2-May 14. The program for Saturday: William Forsythe's recent "New Sleep" (1987), to an electronic score by Tom Willems; George Balanchine's "Ballo della Regina"; the "Corsaire" pas de deux and some surprise items.
Beginning Feb. 2, repertory programs will include David Bintley's "The Sons of Horus" (U.S. premiere), the San Francisco Ballet premiere of Peter Martins' "Calcium Light Night" and a new, full-length production of "Swan Lake" created by SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson.
In addition, the company will dance Tomasson's "Ballet d'Isoline," Balanchine's "Rubies," Lew Christensen's "Jinx," Robbins' "The Concert," Ashton's "Monotones Nos. 1 and 2," Kudelka's "Dreams of Harmony," "La Fille mal Gardee," Paul Taylor's "Sunset" and Val Caniparoli's "Narcisse," among other works.
ALSO THIS WEEK: Gerard Schwarz brings the Seattle Symphony, the orchestra of which he has been music director since 1983, to the Southland this week. Five appearances are scheduled, beginning Wednesday night in Segerstrom Hall at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, when the program lists four excerpts from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet," Howard Hanson's Second Symphony and excerpts from Wagner's "Tannhauser" and "Die Meistersinger." Subsequent appearances take place Thursday night in Royce Hall at UCLA, Friday at the East County Performing Arts Center in El Cajon, Saturday night at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena and Feb. 1 in the new McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert.