The Walt Disney Concert Hall can make us appreciate old music anew and new music immediately. This was a point reinforced Thursday in a four-part program by the Los Angeles Philharmonic led brilliantly by guest conductor Roberto Abbado.
In terms of chronology and style, the program fell into two distinct parts -- the U.S. premiere of Luca Francesconi's "Cobalt, Scarlet: Two Colors of Dawn" before intermission and works by Ravel and Saint-Saens after. The contemporary piece was played first because it required that the orchestra be specially seated, Abbado told the audience.
Francesconi also came out to say a few words. "The main reason I am here is to prove that not all composers are dead," he deadpanned. He said his new work was inspired by the subtle and slow play of the northern lights and, in contrast to that, the immediate, almost violent presence of the sun in his native Italy -- and, he added, in Southern California.
The 20-plus-minute single movement for a huge orchestra, divided into parallel and sometimes contending groups, began with pianissimo metallic glints alternating from both sides of the stage. Other percussion instruments, then winds and brass quietly added developing, transforming layers of volume and color. But it was a sudden clanging accent going off like a depth charge that filled the hall not so much with loudness as with presence, even awe.
From then on, the composer presented us with the play of giant forces -- not bludgeoning us but, like Bruckner in his Ninth Symphony, unfolding a cosmic drama in which humanity plays at best a minor part. It was an impressive achievement.
After intermission, the concert returned to the human realm with soloist Martin Chalifour's warm, ingratiating, amazing virtuosity in Saint-Saens' urbane, remarkably interesting Violin Concerto No. 3. Highlights included the affectionate dialogues between the violinist and principal oboist Marion Arthur Kuszyk and Chalifour's crystal-clear final sequences of harmonics, both in the second movement.
Abbado's contributions here and throughout -- the program included two Ravel works, "Alborada del gracioso" and the Second Suite from "Daphnis et Chloe" -- cannot be overpraised. He was a master of the scores and an inspiring leader.
Los Angeles Philharmonic
Where: Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave.
When: Today, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.
Contact: (323) 850-2125