Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Western Orchestral Culture: Live in L.A.

"The Walt Disney Concert Hall has proved an inspirer of lasting, invigorating music. Steven Stucky's Second Concerto for Orchestra received a Pulitzer Prize. Steve Reich's "You Are (Variations)" was a Pulitzer finalist and has just been released on a winning Nonesuch disc. Esa-Pekka Salonen's "Wing on Wing" highlights a high-profile Deutsche Grammophon recording. John Adams' "Dharma at Big Sur" has lots more performances lined up and a recording comes out next year.

Magnus Lindberg's "Sculpture," which the Los Angeles Philharmonic commissioned (in partnership with the Koussevitzky Music Foundation) and premiered Thursday night, seems just as likely to last. The score is sophisticated yet immediately engrossing ...

The Finnish composer is a great maker of bracing sonic structures, some of which can get enjoyably out of hand. ... His instinct was to write fanfares. The hall makes him happy and his angels wanted to whoop it up. His devils kept him in check. He left out the violins and concentrated on low instruments, lest he sound too blatantly enthusiastic.

The result is a lot of low instruments — pairs of contrabassoons, pairs of tubas and Wagner tubas, pairs of pianos and harps mellowing out the whoops for joy. The violas are the highest strings, which made principal violist Dale Hikawa Silverman concertmaster for the performance.

At the end the organ came rumbling in, lingering "Zarathustra"-like in its low register. Tubas and other brass instruments took positions around the hall. The seats and floors vibrated at frequencies that felt healthful for the body. ...

The orchestral writing is that of a master. Disney Hall is especially happy with bass notes, and Lindberg gave it its fill. The bouncy fanfare figures are not blatant but more like a filigree. The instrumental texture is often fast-moving and complex. A Sibelius sense of mysterious winds blowing everything around is strong at first.

In the middle, "Sculpture" turns into a miniature concerto for orchestra, focusing on different instrumental sections competing to be the most dazzling. The piece climaxes with rousing Stravinskyan rhythms. The score's 23 minutes fly by. The performance was spectacular."

Mark Swed "A captivating new 'Sculpture' in sound" L.A. Times October 8, 2005


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