Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Slow and Steady Wins

October 04, 2011

Georg Friedrich Haas Photo: Universal Edition AG
Great music can arise out of “too many notes” as Emperor Josef II charged Mozart of using, so the legend goes. But the converse can also be true, and Tuesday night’s return of the Los Angles Philharmonic’s “Green Umbrella” new music series presented works at the opposite end of that spectrum, works that succeed by using relatively few distinct notes to make their points. The four pieces, which were all conducted by Otto Tausk, in his first appearance on the L.A. Philharmonic stage, explored concepts of timbre, microtonal structures, and the placement of sound in space and time. If the name Morton Feldman is leaping into your head at this point, go to the front of the class. Feldman’s The Viola in My Life anchored the first half of the show. The first two parts of the composition were played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic members supporting principal violist Carrie Dennis in the starring solo part. Feldman's chamber size faux concerto couldn’t be farther away from the pyrotechnics usually associated with that term. The tones from all players are typically long and sustained crashing into one another in various slowly evolving patterns. It’s fascinating music that requires a different kind of virtuosity to maintain prolonged stable pitches and mount attacks that fit in perfectly with the other musicians on stage.

These qualities were present in the opening work on the program as well, Zosha Di Castri’s La forma dello spazio. The 26 year-old Di Castri situates a piano, violin and cello on stage with a flute and clarinet on the opposite side of the hall. Again the slow wavering tones are passed between the players at some distance further altering the quality of the sound over both space and time. The audience's physical position between the players becomes important here, and the sound could certainly turn hypnotic. Toru Takemitsu’s Rain Coming made a brief if esoteric appearance in the second half of the evening as a lead-in for the anchor piece of the program, chants oubliés from Georg Friedrich Haas. Haas’ music has been making more and more appearances in Los Angeles recently, and chants oubliés may be the most impressive thing I’ve heard from the Austrian composer yet. Haas builds on the simplicity laid out in the rest of the evening through expansion. chants oubliés uses a fairly sizable chamber orchestra divided into two. On one side are brass and a few winds while on the other is a large string contingent. But far from being a struggle, the music here shimmers and groans in a slowly developing modulation on a very large scale. At times it felt like some dark, serious Close Encounters of the Third Kind. (sans Teri Garr.) The music felt lush and mobile and the players sounded deeply entrenched in their parts. A little bit of Haas’ music will cause you to crave more in the way it subtly draws the listener to it. Here’s a free programming idea – how about a concert performance of Haas’ opera Melancholia at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. You’re welcome. So it continued to be a strong start for new(er) music this fall, and here’s to hoping the rest of the season for the L.A. Phil continues along these very exciting lines.


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