Europe, travelers complain, keeps getting more like us. The same pop music, the same fast food, the same television shows, the same jeans and sneakers. But the same new music, the same avant-garde, as well? Sometimes, yes, but not always. And not Thursday night, the third evening of the Resistance Fluctuations festival that offers a contrast between current music in America and Austria. Stereotypes prevailed with surprising tenacity.
In three recent works by young composers from overseas at the Bing Theater of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, there were no new ideas, but plenty of sophistication and dazzling technique in the application of old ones. Meanwhile, at a quirky marathon in nearby galleries, raw invention proved the brazen hallmark of American music.
The impression at the Bing Theater might have been different had the soprano, Salome Kammer, not taken ill forcing the cancellation of two works. But what remained in a concert that featured the American debut of a splendid new music ensemble from Vienna, Klangforum Wien, revealed three composers who are comfortable with new music formulas that were avant-garde in the '50s and are establishment now, but may still have a bit more life left in them than most American concert-goers suspect.
The Viennese-based Swiss composer Beat Furrer, with a growing international reputation and the championship of the likes of conductor Claudio Abbado, was represented by a piece for flute and piano, "Presto con Fuoco." Furrer writes nervous, skittery music. The arresting flute part, played by the composer's wife, Eva Furrer, is bewilderingly complex. Fast and getting continually faster, it was like a beautiful but transparent flying insect. It never settled down, one never got more than a glimpse at it. The piano swatted frantically and almost caught it at the end. The performance was spectacular. One remains haunted by the glimpses.
The other two works were less amazing, but not their flashy performances. The evening's elegant pianist, Marino Formenti, deployed his massive technique to furiously clobber the keyboard with delicious energy in "Macchina d'Autotunno," a piece for keyboard and electronics by the ensemble's conductor, Johannes Kalitzke. The impersonal swooshes that came out of the loudspeakers, however, sounded decidedly dated. The one ensemble work, "Danse Aveugle," by Hanspeter Kyburz, a Nigerian based in Berlin, fits nicely in the Boulez mold. Violin, flute, clarinet, cello and piano never stand still, each flitting with complicated details but staying light on its instrumental feet and offering bursts of lively color.
It was a different story down the street at neighboring galleries. At 5 p.m. in Works on Paper Inc., Arthur Jarvinen unleashed "Serious Immobilities," a 24-hour piece in which a relay team of pianists play Jarvinen's 840 variations on a one-page score by Erik Satie, "Vexations." A hundred years ago, Satie had written the instruction on his piece that it be repeated 840 times, but no one took him seriously until John Cage arranged a marathon performance of it in 1963, and it became the avant-garde rage.
Next door, at Dan Bernier Gallery, was Randall Woolf's companion piece, "Spineless Dog." Along with piped-in Jarvinen, a relay team of pianists performs a more conceptual work on an electric keyboard, set up with all kinds of unpredictable samples, taking Satie very far afield.
This is drifting unpredictable music that functions like a holiday from the busy urban demands of the Austrian music. Some three hours' worth, before and after the Bing concert, proved refreshing.
* Resistance Fluctuations continues through Sunday at various venues, $7-$10, (310) 577-4684 or http://www.wires.org.