Last summer the New York Philharmonic attempted Stockhausen's devilishly difficult "Gruppen" for three orchestras. Each orchestra has its own conductor.
Music director Alan Gilbert sweated bullets conducting one. The composer Magnus Lindberg sweated bullets conducting a second one. Both demonstrated why the work is rarely performed.
Only for the third orchestra did the conductor seem in his element and the music pop out with the arresting immediacy that demonstrated why "Gruppen" is a landmark of the 1950s avant garde. That conductor was the 42-year-old German composer Matthias Pintscher, who will be featured as both conductor and composer at the Music Academy of the West at Hahn Hall in Santa Barbara on Monday night.
Pintscher is becoming increasingly prominent. In the fall he becomes music director at the Ensemble Intercontemporain in Paris, founded by Pierre Boulez in 1976. It's one of the two or three best new music groups in the world and a significant stepping stone for such former music directors as Jonathan Nott, David Robertson and Susanna Mälkki. Pintscher also will be featured as composer and conductor at the Salzburg Festival and the Prom in London.
He also has a presence in the United States, particularly in New York (he will be co-curator of the New York Philharmonic's Biennial next season). And yet, despite having been commissioned by the late Los Angeles philanthropist Betty Freeman and having been championed by the likes of Kent Nagano, Franz Welser-Möst, Christoph Eschenbach and Claudio Abbado, he has had no presence as either a conductor or composer in Southern California.
All of that makes Pintscher's appearance leading members of the Academy Festival Orchestra the biggest new music news of the summer. The concert, moreover, includes his newest work, "Bersheit," premiered by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra last month, along with Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin" and Stravinsky's "Pulcinella."