A new season under the Green Umbrella--the collaborative new-music series of CalArts and the Los Angeles Philharmonic--began Monday in fine fashion. The program at Japan America Theatre boasted a brace of substantial premieres from young composers, in vivid, articulate performances by the New CalArts Twentieth Century Players.
The instrumental “Songs of Gwrageth Anoon” by Mark McGurty is a remarkably pictorial tone poem for 21 players, and one with the courage of its colorful, neo-conservative convictions. Shimmering, vibrant scoring of sure dramatic gestures evokes the watery, tintinabulary world of the titular Gaelic sirens.
The effect is that of harmonically dirty Strauss by way of Ravel. Conductor Peter Ioannu focused the subtly allusive images as fields of color, losing some of the melodic strands in the process but eliciting glowing playing.
Amy Reich’s Concertino for Clarinet, Harp and Chamber Ensemble works a similarly strongly detailed, multihued style more chaotically. The impression here is of a free-wheeling improvisatory sesssion, lyrically moderated by the soloists.
Clarinetist William Powell tootled vigorously and Susan Allen was the capable, under-exploited harpist. Ioannu presided over another forceful performance.
Each half of the program ended with a premiere, and began with a piece well established in the repertory--Varese’s cooly shaped “Octandre” opening the proceedings and Henze’s deliberately archaic Fantasia for String Sextet culled from his “Der Junge Torless” film music beginning the post-intermission portion. The readings of both, again conducted by Ioannu, proved evocative: almost percussively etched in “Octandre”; warmly interactive in the Henze Fantasia.
In the middle of all this lurked the local premiere of Mario Davidovsky’s new Quartet for Flute and Strings, a somewhat faceless work from what used to be the modern mainstream. Rachel Ruddich carried the solo part with technical aplomb and interpretive commitment.