I've been putting off a report on the LA Philharmonic's visit to San
Francisco this week, but now with Jeff Dunn to the rescue, I don't have
to do any heavy lifting.
After rightfully dissing the bizarre Beethoven-heavy programs (*four*
Beethoven pieces, played OK or so-so or worse, and why, dear God, why,
in a city well saturated in B. by Blomstedt, Masur, and others), Jeff
gets to the point:
Salonen is capable of much else [besides bang-bang Beethoven,
as] shown in his splendid interpretations of recent works by
Anders Hillborg and the late Witold Lutoslawski.
Contrasting the Beethoven interpretations in every respect were
the two works commissioned by the Philharmonic and "owned" by
its Music Director. The 1992 Fourth symphony by Lutoslawski was
most like the Beethoven in style, presenting extroverted, well
organized, dramatic rhetoric, the multifaceted nature of which
was ably presented by Salonen. Especially memorable were the
bass throbs in the first movement that returned at the end of
the concluding second, and moments too numerous to detail in
between. No formula other than fine music-making seemed to apply
here, as the changeably flexible Salonen allowed the music to
speak for itself.
Similarly approached was Salonen's highly fluid take on a
phenomenal exercise in tone color, Hillborg's Eleven Gates,
premiered only 11 days earlier in L.A. After decades of close
listening to contemporary music, I consider myself lucky if I
can experience two or three new sounds that have never before
graced my ears. Eleven Gates had dozens. The title refers to the
often drastic transitions between its eleven movements. Certain
recurring references provide cohesion among thoroughly disparate
elements, but structure is not the raison d'etre for this truly
visionary composition, which should be listened to in a
neoimpressionist go-with-the-flow manner, with one's own thoughts
springing forth from the imaginative movement titles (e.g.
"Suddenly in the Room with Floating Mirrors," or "String Quartet
spiraling to the Seafloor").
Hillborg is not a stranger here; his Exquisite Corpse received
complimentary notices when the SF Symphony performed it in 2003.
Like in his magnificent clarinet concerto available in CD, Eleven
Gates, among many other devices, capitalizes on a postmodern
approach to triadic tonality. In the concerto, amid a cacophony
of dissonance, a blink of a pause ushers in a glorious G-major
chord out of nowhere. In Eleven Gates, over a more graduated
interval, a dozen or more separate lines in the string section
convolve through a blur into a sublime D major chord. Other
composers should take note: judicious use of triads outside the
context of tonal centers may result in a liberating compromise
between the increasingly played-out Modernist and Minimalist
schools of composition.
PS from JG: Both the Hillborg and the Lutoslawski have an "oceanic" opening,
drawing in the listener irresistibly, and they both have what it takes for a
contemporary work to succeed, by compelling the listener to hear them again.
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