Life goes on, and the generation of British composers we recently considered avant-gardists--Alexander Goehr, Peter Maxwell Davies, Harrison Birtwistle, et al.--has suddenly become the Establishment, the elder statesmen among musicians.
The present, middle-aged status of these composers came almost as a shock Monday night at the Japan America Theatre, when some of their recent music was heard on a program with representative works from the youngest generation. The New Music Group of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, continuing its Green Umbrella series, offered "New Music/UK" as part of the three-month-long UK/LA '88 Festival.
With four premieres (either West Coast or United States) on the six-work agenda, and with abundant resources of talent, rehearsal and funding having been lavished on this event, it became an occasion of genuine festivity. And the music was worthy.
Oliver Knussen, the 35-year-old, Glasgow-born Londoner making his first appearance with the New Music Group, put together the program, including one of his own (15-year-old) works, and music from the 1980s by Goehr, Birtwistle, Simon Bainbridge (born 1952), George Benjamin (born 1960) and Jonathan Lloyd (born 1948).
Knussen also gave four of the pieces the further support of his careful and unmannered conducting.
Most complex and most fascinating was Knussen's 8 1/2-minute, neo-expressionistic "Ocean de Terre" for soprano and chamber ensemble, an atmospheric, multilayered setting of a fairly impenetrable text by Guillaume Apollinaire. The British soprano, Jane Manning, leapt all vocal hurdles with grace and apparent precision. Ten Philharmonic instrumentalists assisted expertly.
Called by its composer "a song without words," Lloyd's "The Shorelines of Certainty" for a nonet of instruments captivates by its pastoral beginning, its violent close, its Oriental intensity and its pervasive poetry. A resourceful choreographer could make something stunning out of these 10 minutes. . . .
After a quarter-century in the international spotlight, Goehr's music still surprises. The surprises in "a musical offering (J.S.B. 1985)" are numerous, followable, pungent and ultimately attractive. Written for "14 Players in Four Groups," the work seems to take multiple paths--sometimes chaotically--but finally achieves resolution.
Soprano Manning and clarinetist Lorin Levee were the busy and virtuosic protagonists in Birtwistle's "Deowa" (1983), which proceeds like simultaneous monologues rather than a dialogue. Oboist Barbara Winters served as the unfazed and expert leading voice in Bainbridge's single-minded and provocative "Concertante in Moto Perpetuo" (1983). Pianist Zita Carno made easy and sporting work out of Benjamin's overwritten, overlong and only momentarily amusing Three Studies for Solo Piano.