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Morton Feldman Remains Off Course

February 16, 1986|MARC SHULGOLD

"No, I never got on the golf course, never joined the country club."

Morton Feldman is not talking sports--he's talking music. The composer, whose 60th birthday will be honored at three CalArts concerts over the weekend, is referring to the mainstream of music making.

"You know, most composers buy into the country club, but not me. I invented another game, and I survived through three decades."

The New York-based composer (in residence at the Valencia school for the current semester) most definitely "invented another game," as immediately will be apparent at the first CalArts concert on Friday. The program that night consists of one work, Feldman's "For Philip Guston," played by the California E.A.R. Unit.

The one-movement piece lasts four hours.

"When I start writing a piece," he said in his easy-going, New York-accented delivery, "I never know how long it's going to be." Such a carefree attitude about composition is reflective of Feldman's career in music, one he happened into casually and relatively late, he said.

"I never pursued composing as a profession. I was in the family business until middle age--children's wear. In New York, it's like growing corn in Iowa. The way I see it, that's one reason I succeeded: I never had to worry about earning a living by it. Really, being in business saved me."

Not that Feldman took composing lightly. Always interested in music, he began studying--almost by accident, he said--with early 12-tone composer Wallingford Riegger. Feldman was 11 at the time. "Friends would always ask me, gently, 'So, how's your music going?' There was never any pressure, but everyone seemed to want to keep my identity intact. Riegger was just a friend of a friend."

Studies always were done privately: "I never went to college," he said. Eventually, Feldman fell into John Cage's circle, where everyone and everything seemed to influence his minimalist manner.

The term minimalist , incidentally, is not a favorite of his. Feldman abhors any connection with such acknowledged champions of the genre as Philip Glass and Steve Reich. "That's where yuppiedom was born. It's all just another aspect of middlebrow America."

Acceptance is something Feldman will never seek. Audience response to his ever-lengthening pieces is, he said, "a big problem. They all walked out of my Quintet (at the New Music America Festival), but I thought it was about the prettiest thing I ever heard.

"Long pieces have their problems and short pieces have their problems. John Cage told me about this fellow who gave minute-long performances here and there in front of stores in New York. I asked John what he thought of the music.

" 'I don't know,' he replied. 'I missed the first half-minute.' "

AT THE PHILHARMONIC: Guess what the fiery and often controversial Yugoslav pianist Ivo Pogorelich will use to open his Philharmonic-sponsored recital at the Music Center on Tuesday. Something splashy? Virtuosic? Rarely encountered? Guess again. Try Beethoven's contribution to the repertory of every 10-year-old piano student, "Fuer Elise." Matters get quickly heavier with the same composer's Opus 90 Sonata, Bach's English Suite No. 3, Chopin's B-flat-minor Sonata and Five Episodes from Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet."

Another pianist will appear under Philharmonic auspices this week--Vladimir Ashkenazy. But this time, in his ever-increasing role as conductor. Thursday through Sunday (plus a Saturday date in Santa Ana), Ashkenazy will be making his Philharmonic debut with a program consisting of Strauss' "Don Quixote" (with Philharmonic principal cellist Ronald Leonard and principal violist Heiichiro Ohyama), Faure's "Pelleas et Melisande" Suite and Debussy's "La Mer."

BALLET THEATRE NEWS: A recent report out of Chicago noted that American Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Mikhail Baryshnikov, complaining of chronic knee problems, will miss the premiere of Kenneth MacMillan's new work, "Requiem," planned (with Baryshnikov) for its Los Angeles premiere on opening night of the company's Shrine Auditorium engagement next month.

According to ABT spokesman Robert Pontarelli, the dancer was able to dance in all the scheduled performances of "Swan Lake" Act II in Chicago. Of the Los Angeles engagement, Pontarelli said: "We are assuming that everyone will dance as scheduled. He (Baryshnikov) won't be doing 'Requiem' for three weeks before the L.A. visit, so we're hoping that will make a difference in helping the knee to mend." In a recent interview with The Times, Baryshnikov said, "I'm listening to my knee, what my knee will say to me, and I have a couple of friends who will tell me, 'Maybe it is enough,' if I wouldn't dance really well--and then I'll stop." The company opens at the Shrine on March 4.

Speaking of Ballet Theatre and the Shrine, the company announced that the December "Nutcracker" engagement netted a box-office take of $1,725,609. Some 72,000 people attended the 17 performances, making an overage of 4,271 per "Nutcracker." Not surprisingly, ABT also announced that the December dates have been reserved at the 6,000-plus seat hall through 1990! Dates for next year will be Dec. 16-28.

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