Wednesday, March 17, 2004

LA Scene: Kansas born composer unveils new work

(Tenth in a series of occasional posts on Los Angeles life)

Hi Kari:

One of the things LA Phil Music Director, Esa-Pekka Salonen likes to do is play new music.

Thus, last Friday night in the final First Nights concert of the 2003-2004 season, LA was treated to the world premier of Steven Stucky's Second Concerto for Orchestra.

New music is inherently less popular. Of my four concerts this season, this was the least well attended though I'd say that 80% of the seats were filled.

Steven Stucky was born in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1949. Part of the program was a slide show about Stucky's life. In a surprise, one of his middle school classmates showed up and came on stage to share a story about how Stucky had composed an orchestral piece for the school's music class to play.

Stucky would explain how some other works have influenced his composing style. He would describe some section of a noted work and then have Salonen conduct the LA Phil to play that excerpt illustrating his point. This type of classroom-talk show-concert format is part of the LA Phil's periodic attempts to make symphonic music more accessible to the masses. The non-traditional format was a risky proposition (I enjoyed it and I think many did) and it seemed some of the more antsy audience members couldn't get into the spirit of the occasion as I saw a handful of people leave half way through the program.

The Second Concerto for Orchestra overall has a slightly spooky mood to it. It often made me think of movie music for an adventure film. It has a lush sound and a vivid sense of motion.

What I enjoyed most about the work was most notable in the second movement: how the music utilizes the full variety of the instruments in the orchestra. It seemed like every section of the orchestra at one point or another got to lead with the melody and everyone else harmonizes or responds to that section. Because of the close proximity of my seats to the orchestra there were many moments where I felt the sounds coming at me from different directions and you get the sense of the instruments dialoging with each other.

New music is very hit and miss to me. I've been a subscriber since 1999 and some of the new compositions are quite forgettable and the audience is sometimes left granting polite applause with looks ranging from apathy to puzzlement to a vague sense of alarm.

Stucky's work appeared moderately well received as portions of the audience gave the composer a standing ovation and the rest gave proper applause. The response was nowhere near the usual boisterous levels common to programs where the music is widely known.

As for me, upon it conclusion, I thought to myself, I would like to hear it again and explore it some more. I also found myself wondering if it would be as enjoyable at a less acoustically clear and bright hall? The work highlights the dynamic range of sound an orchestra can make and Disney Hall is lively enough to make that fuller appreciation possible. Interestingly, in the post-performance question and answer session, Stucky remarked, I'd hate to think how that would have sounded in the old Dorothy Chandler!

And all the music fans said, "Amen." Okay, we didn't actually say it but I imagine most of us thought it!


At the Department of Water and Power building facing south toward the Downtown skyscrapers

Looking west at the fabulous fountains at the DWP building

And of course, the famed Hall

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