The program that conductor David Alan Miller picked for his concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic this weekend was an odd one--two mini-concerts, really, and neither completely successful in the initial effort, Friday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It did provide plenty to talk about, however, at intermission and afterward.
The chief topic of conversation was the world premiere of "Duplicates," a concerto for two pianos and orchestra by Mel Powell, center of the Calarts musical universe. Large in dimension and ambition, and uncompromising in the atonal complexity of its thought and deed, "Duplicates" impressed heavily, but only intermittently entranced, on its first hearing.
Powell takes care of the major business in bookend "Onta" movements, and a lengthy, detailed business it is, working out all manner of contrasting and complementary duplicate ideas. The writing is mercurial but logical, a characteristically rational rhapsody scored in a colorful Messiaen mode.
In between lie three interludes: Madrigal, Immobile and Mobile. There Powell cossetted the exhausted, perhaps exasperated, "Onta" listener with brief, beguiling movements of clear character and purpose.
Alan Feinberg and Robert Taub handled the protagonists' quietly fiendish parts with fluency and point, thoroughly at one with the protean demands of the score and in ensemble. There is little overt display in the concerto, save in the syncopated linear vigor of the Mobile interlude, but the solo parts remain the core of the conception and Feinberg and Taub delivered them with pertinence.
"Duplicates" is also something of a concerto for orchestra, and Miller and the Philharmonic gave it a fair, balanced reading, if not entirely committed in all the string parts. Anne Diener Giles headed the roster of principal soloists with the fey alto flute solo in the Madrigal interlude.
Miller paired "Duplicates" with an earnest performance of Copland's drowsy "Our Town" music. Then, segregated by intermission, came Scandinavian effusions of late-Romanticism, in the form of Nielsen's Flute Concerto and Sibelius' Seventh Symphony.
Philharmonic principal Janet Ferguson gave a lithe, superbly articulate and seemingly effortless account of the concerto, backed with balanced brio by Miller and the orchestra. Miller's Sibelius proved neatly detailed but fragmented, a series of sonically glorious climaxes in search of catharsis.