Review: The L.A. Phil’s nonstop new music marathon, ‘Noon to Midnight’
For the first Green Umbrella program of the season, Saturday night at Walt Disney Concert Hall, John Adams conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group in five premieres — four of them commissioned by the orchestra, including one by 17-year-old clarinetist Andrew Moses and another by Ingram Marshall, 74 and in too poor of health to have attended, whose “Flow” is special enough that it deserves to bring lasting glory to the orchestra.
But because I didn’t want Marshall’s piece to get lost in a big evening, I’ve buried the lead: The New Music Group was followed by a late-night appearance of wild Up, with Christopher Rountree conducting his increasingly impressive young ensemble in three more premieres. One was his own dazzling violin concert featuring Jennifer Koh as soloist, yet another L.A. Phil commission. Exiting the Grand Avenue staircase close to midnight, we were given bells for audience participation in still another L.A. Phil-commissioned world premiere, this by the collective Lucky Dragons.
Even with all that, I’ve buried the lead, again. Frankly, there is no way to know where to begin. The four-hour Green Umbrella marathon was but the tail end of the L.A. Phil’s daylong “Noon to Midnight” celebration of new music in Los Angeles. Disney Hall was opened wide to feisty local ensembles and to a sizable, inquisitive public. More L.A. Phil commissions were handed out to the L.A. Phil Bass Quintet, gnarwhallaby, wasteLAnd, Jacaranda and the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet.
The environmental composer Chris Kallmyer amplified a box of 1,000 crickets to ear-cleansing effect. Percussionist Jonathan Hepfer demonstrated the hypnotic powers of a triangle solo in Disney’s Keck amphitheater in late afternoon light. Composer Veronika Krausas and artist Ana Prvacki created musical mystery by putting L.A. Phil bass players under a tent. Riding the escalators from the parking garage to the hall, visitors also encountered 24 singers carrying large bells, intoned to wondrous effect under the new “Nimbus” cloud art installation. Composer-conjurer Rand Steiger was responsible for that.
New music regulars joined families with children and dogs, stylish downtown arts mavens, tourists and the simply curious. No one could take in all of more than 50 works, yet in the large selection I heard, I did not encounter a single dumbed-down note.
Audacity was the primary musical quality on display. For a couple of hours in the early afternoon hot sun, PianoSpheres assembled 13 pianists, one each for Olivier Messiaen’s bird pieces in his “Catalogue d’Oiseaux.” I caught Aron Kallay evoking with bold power the charming “La Chouette Hulotte,” a particularly cute owl.
It wasn’t only the audience who was kept hopping. The busiest pianist was Richard Valitutto. After playing a prepared piano in a wild Up concert of four new works from the L.A. Phil’s National Composers Intensive program for coaching young composers, he threw on a jumpsuit — the very cool uniform of the clarinet, keyboard, cello and trombone quartet gnarwhallaby — for the premiere of Michelle Lou’s wrenchingly effective, electronic “Heart/Lung.” Vallituto also had his Messiaen bird, and later in the night, he was soloist in wild Up’s West Coast premiere of Andrew McIntosh’s “Yelling in the Wind,” where the pianist channeled Morton Feldman and Rachmaninoff in a score meant as an enticing preview of the composer’s up-and-coming “Bonnie and Clyde” opera.
Concerto-like works, in fact, proved a significant part of the day. Moses’ “at a gray sky floating between the dirt,” which opened the Green Umbrella concert, began with the young clarinetist all but blowing his brains out in his highly emotional work, too showy by half but also reaching an audience in a compellingly direct way that is astonishing for a 17-year-old.
The same New Music Group program featured the premiere of Kate Soper’s “The Ultimate Abstract Poem,” a deeply thoughtful meditation on beauty, communication and humanity, with the composer as haunting vocal soloist. A little later when wild Up took the stage, Koh ferociously dug into Rountree’s outrageously wild and wooly “Word. Language. Honey.” with the same intensity she brings to Bach, Beethoven and Philip Glass.
There was too much to report. There was too much I missed. There was too much to digest.
Still, one takeaway is the vitality of the collectives wild Up, gnarwhallaby and wasteLAnd, which share many players. Another was, in an atmosphere of experimentation and often clanking musical combustion, how much room exists for tranquillity. Jacaranda captured that with the premiere of David Lang’s “sleeper’s prayer” for soprano and organ and also in Hans Abrahamsen’s edge-of-audibility “Schnee.”
And, finally, there was Marshall’s “Flow,” a concise piano concerto with Timo Andres as soloist. I heard it as the journey of discarded old American hymn books thrown in the ocean and floating to Bali. At the end of the transporting, ethereal score, the solo piano mimics an Indonesian gamelan, doubled by low tones on electronic keyboard that serves as a kind of musical guardian angel. Someone certainly was looking over this extraordinary day.
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