There are three ways to deal with the thorny business of presenting new music: Stick to an esoteric "who cares if they listen" agenda, pander to things trendy, or the right way, as demonstrated in the Green Umbrella concert Monday at Japan America Theatre, from the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group. Music director Esa-Pekka Salonen's coherent, organic program lacked nothing in cerebral intensity, energy, humor or technical finesse. It was missing only that new music concert staple--the world premiere. But that was no inherent loss: World premieres aren't always all they're cracked up to be.
This was a night dominated by Finnish musical concerns, beginning with the dazzling Finnish-born guest soprano Anu Komsi, who mixed subtle theatricality, technical chops and an irreverent panache that recalled Icelandic pop stylist Bjork. Komsi laid the concert's groundwork with her tart reading of Luciano Berio's "Sequenza III," rising to the challenge of its wild, deconstructionist mosaic of vocal utterances.
Komsi returned to give a charged reading of Salonen's own tradition-goosing "Floof," which he describes in the program as "dodecaphonic rap music." Between Komsi's heated delivery, through a microphone, and guest Gloria Cheng's synthesizer timbres, the piece conjured up a riveting language where rock energy and serialism somehow met.
Fellow Finnish composer Jouni Kaipainen's "Carpe Diem!," a clarinet concerto played compellingly by Lorin Levee, goes on tour with the New Music Group this year. The title, and its exclamation point, are validated by the work, an exhilarating showpiece with vivid cross talk between soloist and ensemble.
Steven Stucky's "Boston Fancies" also impressed, with its parallel lines of dissonance and melancholy vying for control. In this compositional company, Schoenberg's 1906 Chamber Symphony sounded almost like a bastion of romanticism, although its fitful harmonic rhetoric represents the composer's struggle to break free of romantic gridlock.