MUSIC REVIEW : Some Alluring New Sounds


The good, the bad and the boring often mix indiscriminately at new music concerts. For every piece illuminated by joy or invention, it seems, one must endure another constructed out of formula, cliche or tired reiteration.

Not so the second Green Umbrella event of 1994, Monday night in the Japan America Theatre. On the agenda were six strong works, one a classic, the other five recent, provocative and engrossing. The composers--what, no Schnittke?--were Steven Stucky, Gyorgy Ligeti, Gyorgy Kurtag, Bernard Rands and Arnold Schoenberg.

Predictably, since the nearly two dozen participating players comprised the current membership of the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group--with two splendid vocal guests--the performances, led by Stucky and by Esa-Pekka Salonen, L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra music director, were viable and polished. More than that, they proved consistently committed. The faint and familiar odor of incomplete preparation never once arose.

Stucky, the Philharmonic’s new music advisor, conducted his two pieces, “Sappho Fragments” of 1982 and “Four Poems of A.R. Ammons” of 1992, in which the vocal soloists were soprano Judith Kellock and baritone Sanford Sylvan, respectively.


Both works strike the ear with compelling sincerity, haunting lyricism and an inexorable sense of continuity. Ammons’ texts, in particular, as delivered with perfect enunciation and coloration by Sylvan, grip the listener through their command and cogency; Stucky’s instrumental settings--for six players--provide well-gauged emotional counterpoint.

The similarly engaging “Sappho” songs--though sparse and episodic, they are in texture the opposite of arid--received comprehensive, touching readings from Kellock and a quintet of New Music Group regulars. After intermission, Kellock joined violinist Elizabeth Baker in Kurtag’s nine-minute, seven-item, proto-surreal cycle, “S.K.--Remembrance Noise,” a difficult and complex work the two women sailed through without glibness.

In their Los Angeles premieres, violist Evan Wilson played two challenging but mournful solo pieces by Ligeti, “Facsar” and “Loop.”

This generous evening offered two resting places, entremets, as it were. In the first half, the two Ligeti pieces served that function; in the second, it was accomplished by Rands’ bucolic quintet, " . . . in the receding mist . . . " played affectionately by flutist Anne Diener Giles, harpist Lou Anne Neill, violinist Elizabeth Baker, violist John Hayhurst and cellist Daniel Rothmuller.

At the end, there was Schoenberg’s bracing Chamber Symphony No. 1, led breezily by Salonen, played expertly by 15 instrumentalists of the orchestra.