The Los Angeles Philharmonic has begun presenting to local audiences the programs they will be taking on tour, all of which include music exclusively from the 20th and 21st Century. London, Lucerne, Paris, and New York get the two big programs: one featuring works by Vivier, Debussy, and Stravinsky; the other with John Adams’s massive oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary.
As if that weren’t enough to show their dedication to newer music, the LA Phil’s New Music Group will be performing an extra concert in London: the Green Umbrella program they unveiled at Walt Disney Concert Hall last week. In fact, it will be the very first concert they give on tour — a statement-making concert, if you will.
This is certainly admirable and ambitious in concept, and based on what I heard, the works performed certainly gave the musicians a chance to show off their range and flexibility. Moreover, the three compositions fit together well while also presenting some diversity in musical language.
John Adams’ Son of Chamber Symphony started things off, with Mr. Adams himself conducting. London audiences will have the good fortune to have this smaller work available to compare against The Gospel According to the Other Mary, especially considering the stylistic differences that are evident between them: first performed in 2007 and full of playfulness and jazzy rhythms, Son of Chamber Symphony has much more in common with, say, City Noir than The Other Mary. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s performance just a few months ago was solid, but this performance greatly benefited from Disney Hall’s crystalline acoustics; instrumental colors were brighter, and harmonies had more of an edge.
Next up was Joseph Pereira’s Concerto for Percussion and Chamber Orchestra. The LA Phil’s Principal Timpanist follows in the footsteps of his predecessors in that role, William Kraft and Mitchell Peters, as both a percussionist and composer. Unlike those two gentlemen, he has achieved near rock-star-status since arriving from the New York Philharmonic in 2006:
- Off stage, women swoon as he walks by dressed in something off the pages of Esquire or GQ — on more than one occasion, I’ve heard him described as a “hottie” by the ladies sitting near me;
- On stage, he always plays with rhythmic incisiveness, tonal precision, and timbral nuance, and audiences cheer loudly when he’s given a solo bow at the end of an orchestral performance.
He can seemingly do no wrong, and he did nothing to mess with that reputation on this night.
His Concerto received its world premiere nine months ago with Colin Currie as soloist. This time, Mr. Pereira took the spotlight himself, with a battery of drums (4 bongos, 4 tom-toms, and one BIG bass drum) arrayed on stage right highlighted during the first movement, and tuned instruments (marimba and vibraphone) to the left being put to use in the second and third. You’d expect a lot of banging and pounding in a percussion concerto and you certainly heard some of that, but you also got contemplative moments, with a mix of sounds being achieved by the use of different mallets (and occasionally the soloists’ hands) and various scraping techniques. The chamber-sized accompaniment, led by Gustavo Dudamel, added texture, with two additional percussionists in the ensemble tying the sound together. The overall result was a compelling, well-balanced performance that could be easily appreciated right away, while also having enough layers that one would want to give it multiple hearings to appreciate fully. I liked it, and so did everyone else — the audience gave the soloist-composer the most enthusiastic ovation of the evening.
After intermission, Graffiti by Unsuk Chin was given its world premiere with Mr. Dudamel conducting once again. It is a cogent, yet complex three-movement work, not as easy on the ears as the other two works on the program. The agitated first movement, “Palimpset,” is dominated by the strings; the second, “Notturno urbano,” is a more halting section featuring percussion, woodwinds, and brass; the finale, labeled “Passacaglia,” is peripatetic, with instruments constantly interrupting each other mid-statement. Audience response was sustained through three curtain calls, giving the composer multiple opportunities to take bows, but applause were somewhat more subdued than those given to the other two works of the evening.
Green Umbrella: February 26, 2013; Walt Disney Concert Hall
Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group
Adams: Son of Chamber Symphony
- Sarah Jackson (flute/piccolo); Ariana Ghez (oboe); Michele Zukovsky (clarinet); David Howard (bass clarinet); Whitney Crockett (bassoon); Andrew Bain (horn); Thomas Hooten (trumpet); Nitzan Haroz (trombone); Joanne Pearce Martin (piano/celesta); Raynor Carroll, Alexander Frederick (percussion); Martin Chalifour, Lyndon Johnston Taylor (violin); Carrie Dennis (viola); David Garrett (cello); Christopher Hanulik (bass)
- John Adams, conductor
Pereira: Concerto for Percussion and Chamber
- Catherine Random Karoly (flute/piccolo); Ariana Ghez (oboe); Michele Zukovsky (clarinet); Donald Foster (contrabass clarinet); Patricia Kindel (bassoon); Brian Drake (horn); Christopher Still (trumpet); James Miller (trombone); John Lofton (bass trombone); Chester Englander, Alexander Frederick (percussion); Joanne Pearce Martin (piano); Martin Chalifour, Nathan Cole, Bing Wang, Lyndon Johnston Taylor, Michele Bovyer, Minyoung Chang (violin); Carrie Dennis, Dale Hikawa Silverman, Benjamin Ullery, Ingrid Hutman (viola); Ben Hong, David Garrett (cello); Michael Valerio (electric bass)
- Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
- Joseph Pereira, solo percussion
Chin: Graffiti (world premiere, Los Angeles Philharmonic co-commission)
- Sarah Jackson (flute/piccolo); Catherine Random Karoly (flute/alto flute); Ariana Ghez (oboe); Anne Gabriele (oboe/English horn); Michele Zukovsky (clarinet); David Howard (clarinet/bass clarinet); Donald Foster (E-flat clarinet); Patricia Kindel (bassoon/constrabassoon); Brian Drake, Gregory Roosa (horn); Thomas Hooten, Christopher still (trumpet); James Miller (trombone); Norman Pearson (tuba); Lou Anne Neill (harp); Joanne Pearce Martin (piano/celesta); Raynor Carroll, Chester Englander, Alexander Frederick (percussion); Martin Chalifour, Bing Wang, Lyndon Johnston Taylor, Michele Bovyer (violin); Dale Hikawa Silverman, Benjamin Ullery (viola); Ben Hong, David Garrett (cello); Christopher Hanulik (bass)
- Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Photo credit: Matthew Imaging