MUSIC AND DANCE REVIEWS : 20th-Century Works Draw an Audience

Something unusual happened Friday night: The Los Angeles Philharmonic played a program of four works, all of them written in this century, and a sizable audience not only attended the event in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, it also stayed to the end.

There were, of course, a few leave-takings at intermission --but none of the wholesale defections that sometimes accompany a 20th-Century program. Are our audiences growing more broad-minded?

To some, no doubt, the agenda may have looked forbidding: two acknowledged masterpieces by a composer whose name still strikes terror in some quarters, Bela Bartok; a famous, regularly encountered piece by the late Witold Lutoslawski; and a brand-new overturette, Steven Stucky’s “Fanfare for Los Angeles.”

In the ear, at the first performance, this quartet of works boasted extraordinary variety in mood, texture and sound-profile. As conducted by music director Esa-Pekka Salonen--returning to the Pavilion podium after taking an unscheduled night off, Thursday, for the birth of his second daughter--the combination proved a delectation for the orchestra’s subscribers.


There was, however, unexpected disappointment in Salonen’s loose-limbed reading of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, a work of great and dangerous familiarity. One anticipates its mystery, its urgency, its lyric soaring and its remembered pungency, especially as limned by this virtuosic orchestra.

Not all of those qualities rose up again on this occasion. The laser-like concentration so often observed on this podium when Salonen is the occupant became spotty rather than consistent.

In the first half, all conditions emerged positive. Stucky’s new fanfare, this one for full orchestra, used the ensemble in a kaleidoscopic but pointed manner, filling ear and mind provocatively for all of two minutes. Then, Lutoslawski’s haunting “Musique funebre” became, 36 years after its birth, a paean to its writer, who died last month.

Yefim Bronfman’s completion this week of the Bartok piano concerto cycle, with the full-throated but sensitive collaboration of Salonen and the Philharmonic, reached an appropriate climax in the pianist’s handsome detailing of all the mellow facets in the Third Concerto. This is a work that demands awesome pianistic resources, then uses them to create a sparse, serene otherworld. Bronfman excelled in every wise.