COMMENTARY AND LINK: On hearing pieces more than once

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

On Monday I uploaded a long post on the 2012-2013 Los Angeles
Philharmonic season at Walt Disney Concert Hall (HERE). In reading back over
the schedule, one concert stood out — but not, perhaps, for the reason you
might expect. It’s the program scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 2 when Esa-Pekka
Salonen will lead the LAPO in a concert that includes Witold Lutoslawski’s
Symphony No. 4.

 

It was an “aha” moment not because Salonen will be
conducting, although I always enjoy hearing what Esa-Pekka does with the Phil.
Moreover, with Gustavo Dudamel conducting just 10 subscription weeks next
season (barely more than a third of the schedule) the LAPO needs to have a very
strong core of guest conductors, and Esa-Pekka is one of those (as noted
yesterday, next season’s guest conducting list is quite strong).

 

Nor did I zoom in on these concerts because I’m in love with
Lutoslawski’s music. I acknowledge that he’s an important 20th
century composer but recordings of his music don’t fill my CD shelves. What I
appreciated was that Lutoslawski’s Symphony No. 4 is coming back to the Phil’s
repertoire; the composer conducted the world premiere with the LAPO in 1994.

 

One reason that the L.A. Phil is a world-class orchestras is
its commitment to new music, which began during the tenure of Zubin Mehta
(1962-1978), really picked up steam during Salonen’s reign as music director
from 1992-2009, and has continued under Dudamel’s leadership. Next season the
Phil will present nine commissions, seven world premieres, three U.S. premieres
and four West Coast first performances in its 29-week season, and those numbers
are consistent with the past several seasons. Few, if any, orchestras in the
world can match that level of commitment to contemporary compositions.

 

However, what’s missing are second and third performances of
these works. A little over two years ago, for example, the Phil commissioned
John Adams’ City Noir as part of
Gustavo’s opening gala concert as LAPO music director. They played it again a
couple of months later on a subscription program and took it on the orchestra’s
cross-country tour the following May. I thought it was a terrific piece, but it
hasn’t shown up again on a Phil program (or anywhere else locally, for that
matter).

 

Obviously everyone’s tastes are different but as I think
back over the past decade or so, I remember Nave
and Sentimental Music
and Wing on
Wing
by Salonen as two examples of works that deserve multiple hearings (we
did get to hear his LA Variations in
2009). Salonen’s Violin Concerto just won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for
new compositions and his piano concerto was equally stunning. Have we have
heard them since their premieres? Don’t think so. Readers are invited to add
others to my list by commenting below.

 

AT&T once sponsored a program entitled the “American
Encore” series, which was designed to provide “second” hearings to works that
got premieres and then had languished in obscurity. One of those pieces was Symphony for Classical Orchestra,
written in 1947 by Harold Shapero. Andr Previn and the Phil played it in 1986
and I remember the reaction being “where has this piece been all along?”
Unfortunately, like the sunken cathedral that inspired one of Debussy’s
preludes, Shapero’s work fell back beneath the waves of newer compositions.
Let’s hope that City Noir, Nave and Sentimental Music and others
listed above don’t suffer the same fate.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

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